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'There's business out on the high street, you just have to get the things that people want'

By Margaret Canning

Wallace's is a third-generation department store in Ballymena, Co Antrim. It is about to embark on its biggest expansion in recent years as it extends into a former Poundstretcher.

Director Thomas Wallace, whose father set up the business in 1948, said he did not believe political uncertainty was the biggest factor in consumer behaviour.

And he said footfall in his own business had been strong. "The weather makes a far bigger difference to us than anything else. There is uncertainty out there, but there's still business out there on the high street for those that go out and get the ranges and the garments that people want to wear." Mr Wallace said his store's extensive stock was keeping customers interested.

"We have huge stock in menswear, ladieswear, footwear and boyswear," he said.

He has been involved in the business for 40 years, and was followed into the family firm by his son Jonathan around 20 years ago.

"With retail, the thing always has to progress. There's no standing still in retail - there's only going forward or back."

The renovations, which he describes as a "huge investment", mean the company has been able to extend from Church Street into Wellington Street and get a bigger floorspace.

He said the milder winter weather had meant the company hadn't sold as many heavy winter coats as usual. "But we've been able to get customers in by selling them other things," he said.

And a long-running scheme of improvements to the town centre had affected fellow traders. "Yes, we do now have flowers and trees, but I'm not sure people come shopping to see flowers and trees."

The company does have an online operation, but Mr Wallace said it wasn't popular with most customers. "When it comes to clothes in particular, they do just like to come in and try things on."

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