Independent shoe store Moda Shoes takes a step into Victoria Square
Belfast city centre has its first independent shoe retailer after Moda Shoes opened its doors in the city's Victoria Square Shopping Centre.
Until now, the centre's retail shoe offering has been dominating by successful chains such as Dune and Kurt Geiger.
Moda Shoes founder Gavin Dunlop, who now has four stores in Northern Ireland, said Ireland had a strong tradition of independent shoe retailers in towns north and south of the border.
Mr Dunlop said: "When I speak to reps for all the European manufacturers, they always tell me what a struggle it is across the water because of all the big English multiples.
"But in Ireland they say it's much easier because every town does have a strong independent.
"Until recently it's looked as if Belfast is going the same way as Scotland and England because we only have the multiples - so I'm very glad to be the first independent." The businessman now has a total of four stores in Northern Ireland, including Newtownards, Bangor and Ballymena.
His first store was opened in Newtownards in 2000 - and Mr Dunlop said it continued to command a loyal following.
The chain specialises in European brands of shoes such as Marian, Pia Rossini and Rieker.
Mr Dunlop closed a former Moda Shoes on the Lisburn Road in south Belfast around 18 months ago after a disagreement over rent with his landlord.
"I suppose he did me a favour in the end because had I not closed that store I would not have opened in Victoria Square," Mr Dunlop said.
"It's been a year in the negotiation with Victoria Square and I've looked at a number of units but I suppose all good things come to those who wait."
He said footfall had been strong since he opened two weeks ago.
"It's a great location and certainly the response since opening has been tremendous."
The letting of a Victoria Square unit to Moda Shoes was negotiated by commercial property agents Lambert Smith Hampton.
Meanwhile, international shoe retailer Aldo has reopened on the city's Donegall Place after closing down for around a year.
David McGowan, assistant manager at the shop, said it had closed because the rents were too high but had been able to reopen following a rent review.
"Our rent was really high but we got a rent review and it made the business profitable," he said.
While Aldo is a Canadian company he said the company's stock was European in style - complementing the reopened branch of Spanish clothing label Zara across the road.