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Retailing renaissance bodes well in spite of concerns over future

By Rosemary Carson

Published 09/08/2016

The arrival of bakery chain Greggs in Northern Ireland has been closely monitored
The arrival of bakery chain Greggs in Northern Ireland has been closely monitored

The assumption that investment in Northern Ireland will come to a standstill following the Brexit vote has not yet played out in the local retail sector. Notwithstanding the ‘Leave’ campaign’s victory, Belfast city centre in particular is enjoying somewhat of a retail renaissance at the moment, with many new retailers in the local market.

This year has seen the continued resurgence in some of Belfast’s traditional retail pitches such as the Donegall Place/Castle Lane area, in part driven by the favourable rates revaluation. New ventures by retailers such as Skechers, Moss Bros, Stradivarius and DW Sports have all either opened in recent months or are about to open. A number of existing retailers, such as Zara, have completed extensive refurbishments, underlying their confidence in the area.

Exciting new retailers include the prestigious Italian cosmetic house, Kiko, currently fitting out in Cornmarket, and the Entertainer toy store, which is due to open its first Northern Ireland outlet this month in CastleCourt.

It is not only our high streets that are experiencing growth. There has been a very high turnover in the ownership of some of Northern Ireland’s leading shopping centres in the last couple of years and a change of ownership often leads to an injection of new investment.

For example, upscaling at the Abbey Centre by Dunnes Stores and Next proves that these retailers still believe that a landmark store holds a competitive edge against online shopping.

Topshop has also just begun a refit at Victoria Square and the fact that it is reinvesting in Belfast should be seen as a positive sign.

The food and beverage sector also continues to be active. The general rule of thumb is that once a brand opens one successful outlet, several others follow. The arrival of bakery chain Greggs (a client of Carson McDowell) in Northern Ireland has been closely monitored. It is very active in the market and it seems likely we will see a number of new openings right across the country in 2016 and 2017. Likewise, other new entrants to this sector, such as Patisserie Valerie, are unlikely to be content until they have secured multiple outlets.

Even if there is some economic uncertainty following the Brexit vote, it is hard to see the food and beverage market generally or the influx of new food and drink brands declining.

These days, the average person seems to eat out as a matter of routine rather than as a one-off treat and that lifestyle choice seems unlikely to change in the near future. The success of new developments tailored to the food and drink market, such as Alterity’s restaurant terrace at Boucher Crescent, is evidence of this trend.

While the long term economic future is somewhat uncertain thanks to the recent political changes, the rest of the year looks bright for Northern Ireland’s retail offering, which is good news for the local economy generally and indeed all local and visiting shopaholics.

Rosemary Carson is partner and head of real estate at Carson McDowell lawyers, Murray Street, Belfast

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