Retailers in Newry have already surpassed the record-breaking trade chalked up last Christmas — with almost four more shopping weeks to go.
Thousands of shoppers from across the border are thought to have spent up to €10m in the |border town last Tuesday — the day of a public sector strike in the Republic.
And Newry store owners are bracing themselves for another lucrative day’s trading this Thursday when a second strike is due to take place across the border.
Peter Murray, manager of the Buttercrane Shopping Centre in Newry, said figures for cross-border shopping had already eclipsed last year’s record numbers.
“Footfall was up 40% last Tuesday from a norm of around 12,000 shoppers daily,” he said. “Last year was the best ever and we thought it would be difficult to match. However, so far all the indications are that we have already exceeded last year’s figures.
“We can’t say for sure how many people who were on strike came north to shop but we certainly saw a big increase, and if another planned day of industrial action takes place on Thursday we’re expecting something similar.
“We also found that there were a lot more mothers with children from the Republic shopping here, probably because they had been forced to take the day off work as the schools were closed.”
Mr Murray said a family had |arrived at the centre at 6.45am on Saturday, having left their home in Cork at 3.30am.
“While the boost in shoppers from the Republic is very welcome, at a time when retailers are facing great difficulties in trading, it is the custom we get from local people who shop with us all the year that is vitally important. From next week we have late night opening every night so we can accommodate everyone,” he said.
Cathal Austin, manager of the Quays Shopping Centre in Newry, estimated that an extra 10,500 shoppers visited the complex on Tuesday. It is thought shoppers were spending an average of £200 each on groceries in Sainsbury’s, one of the centre’s main stores.
Spending on clothing, toys and other items in the centre’s Debenhams store was also high.
Orla Jackson, chief executive of Newry Chamber of Commerce, reckons shoppers from the Republic account for 25-35% of town trade. She said Newry was a big draw as it is only an hour’s drive from north Dublin and groceries are 18-25% cheaper.
A survey found that 250,000 households in the Republic are now regularly doing their grocery shopping in Northern Ireland.