Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Time for small shops to rethink opening hours

Independent retailers in provincial towns and villages have a tough time. Not only do they have to deal with soaring rates and rents but they also have to compete with behemoth supermarkets, which use economies of scale to great effect, and online retailers, which can keep their costs to a minimum.

I'm not talking about the type of convenience store which is part of a larger group, but the truly independent one or two-shop retailer.

Butchers, bakers, fruit and veg shops and any other number of the type of vendor which you'll find on the high streets of towns and villages up and down Northern Ireland.

In the town where I live, there are plenty of these independent gems, plying their trade from 9am to 5.30pm six days a week, selling all you need for a sumptuous dinner, a magnificent breakfast or a splendid lunch.

They're very good but I rarely buy anything from them.

I'd love to, but I can't as I, like many other people, work in a job which requires me to be here for hours outside those considered appropriate for my local independent retailers.

They're not open when I leave for work in the morning (and I'm not sure I'd be bothered to go shopping at that time even if they were) and they are most certainly not open in the evening when myself and 800,000 or so full-time workers in Northern Ireland head home.

I drive down the high street past closed shutters, unable to buy so much as a bag of spuds from an independent retailer despite the fact I'd rather give my money to them than the supermarkets or chain convenience stores which are waiting to take the money off me with a smile and a pat on the back.

This barely disguised rant is not new to this column but deserves repeating because it is hugely frustrating to hear the complaints of hardship from independent retailers but at the same time be forced to spend money in supermarkets.

But I have a solution.

Instead of opening 9am-5.30pm why not have a lie in and open at 10am and then stay open to 7.30pm, or even 8pm?

That way they'd catch workers, the people which are most likely to have disposable income to spend, on their way home.

There can't be that many people queuing up to get into a butchers at 9am on a Monday morning so lost trade would be minimal but the potential to boost business at the other end of the day is huge.

And it wouldn't cost any more as staff would be working the same amount of hours but at a slightly different time of the day.

So before I head off into the night to give my dinner money to a listed supermarket giant once again, a final plea for good sense among Northern Ireland's independent retailers.

It works in Spain and other European nations so there's no reason why it can't work here.

We all want to give you our money but you won't hang around for us.

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