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Northern Ireland retailers are pumpkin up the volume as shoppers buy for Halloween

By Rachel Martin

Published 28/10/2016

Ivan McElroy, owner of McElroy’s Fruit & Veg in Ballyhackamore, east Belfast, with some of the hundreds of pumpkins on sale at his shop
Ivan McElroy, owner of McElroy’s Fruit & Veg in Ballyhackamore, east Belfast, with some of the hundreds of pumpkins on sale at his shop

Northern Ireland's retailers are getting into the Halloween spirit as they prepare to cash in from sales of popular 'fright night' items.

It is hoped this year's event will get people in the spending mood, with the American tradition of carving a pumpkin taking over from the Northern Ireland custom of carving a turnip.

Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA), said the festival had growing economic potential.

"I think more people are holding parties and getting more into the spirit of things," he said.

"This week our members will see a small but very significant boost. I think Halloween gets people in the mood for shopping - particularly this year falling on the weekend. We think it'll be a boost and will lead into one of the best Christmases so far."

Newry fancy dress shop Costume Corner was established just 11 years ago, but has already become one of the island's largest costume retailers. Around one-third of the shop's sales are made in the two weeks leading up to Halloween.

Owner Glenda Douglas said she had noticed a return to more gruesome costumes with scary clowns and werewolves proving popular this year.

"When we first started, Halloween wasn't what it is now, it was all about witches and vampires, and then it started to move on to what I call everyday fancy dress - costumes people could wear again, superheroes and cartoon characters - things they'll wear again on a stag do or a hen do," she said.

"Every year we laugh - the girls' costumes are shorter and the boys' are more muscled. Women will try on more than men, but men tend to worry less about how much they spend."

The shop's position close to the border means this year has been a bumper one - with customers travelling from as far away as Cork to get their hands on the perfect outfit.

Costumes sell for as little as £7 for a child's costume to £150 for more bespoke creations.

But things haven't been so good for one of Northern Ireland's best-known pumpkin growers.

This year, former grower Alan Lockhart, who runs Alderside Farms in Newry, will be among those buying instead of growing his own.

Alan grew pumpkins for five years and was one of the larger producers in the region, supplying almost 6,000 pumpkins each year. But he decided to call quits when last year's bad weather affected crops across the region.

"After last year's bad weather I didn't want to take that risk again," he said. "And this summer wasn't great, so I'm glad we weren't in it again this year.

"We plant everything by hand, so my wife and I would spend weeks on our knees preparing everything -it's hard work."

But things have been better for those who sell them. Ivan McElroy has already sold more than 150 pumpkins at his grocer's shop on the Upper Newtownards Road in Belfast this week.

Ivan orders most of his pumpkins from a Northern Ireland producer - but has had to turn to English growers to meet demand.

"We've always a big rush as it gets closer to Halloween and there's always a lot of people out on the day looking for them - but there have been a few years when I've run out early," he said.

Moneyreagh father Barry Close called at the shop to pick up a pumpkin for his daughter to carve and said that he tries to support local retailers where possible.

"There's a bit of personality and they're always willing to help you," he said.

"I like artisan foods and locally produced foods and they are good for finding things like that.".

Belfast Telegraph

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