Retailers in Belfast are hoping for a buoyant payday weekend as hundreds of new deals and incentives are rolled out to entice shoppers.
Stores, restaurants, bars and hotels have been struggling to stay afloat during eight weeks of on-going Union flag protests that have prompted people to shun Northern Ireland's capital.
But last week — after this newspaper launched its We're Backing Belfast campaign — traders reported there was a much-needed influx of customers into the city.
Following on from that initial success, the retail and hospitality sectors are now offering even more bargains for consumers over the coming days to encourage people in to spend.
The Apartment Bar, situated opposite City Hall where all the trouble began, has said that bookings are up 40% from last week.
“There has been a huge improvement,” said assistant manager Leigh Murray.
“After the start of the campaign last week we didn’t have as many cancellations as the week before and this weekend the restaurant is practically booked out for big parties.”
Masked protests, attacks on police officers and scattered road blocks have been eroding consumer confidence and discouraging shoppers from coming into Belfast since trouble over the Union flag broke out at the start of December.
As a result of the unrest, one publican has estimated losses of around £95,000 over the Christmas period and a further £66,000 in the subsequent weeks.
As the momentum behind the big push for people to ‘take back the city’ — which has its own hashtag on the social networking site Twitter — has grown, so too has the number of traders offering deals and incentives.
Siren, an upmarket boutique at Bloomfield Avenue in east Belfast, is giving discounts of 70% on its high-end clothing range and 20% off accessories, for example, while film-goers can get two tickets for any film at The Movie House for £10 from today until Sunday.
Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association boss Glyn Roberts said his members had told him that business had improved last weekend.
“Things are getting better but this weekend and next are crucial for the retail and hospitality sector,” he said.
“It is vital that people who live in Belfast come in and support their traders, especially now that the bad weather has gone away.
“We are also appealing to employers not to close early tonight and send their staff home. We all need to pull together. Everything else is in place. The missing link is the citizens of Belfast.”
The Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau (BVCB) is now coordinating a major £1m multi-media campaign to help Belfast traders, running under the ‘Backin’ Belfast’ banner
BVCB chief executive Gerry Lennon said that it had got off to a great start. “It has been generating an unprecedented number of offers, discounts, incentives and interesting events,” he said.
“These have been making an important difference in enticing more people back into the city.
“With the support of the Belfast Telegraph and its commitment to the city, we're looking forward to getting everyone ‘Backin' Belfast.”
Art gallery slashes the price of paintings, netting £23k in sales
By Claire McNeilly
An art dealer who supports our We’re Backing Belfast campaign has sold paintings worth £23,000 in two days.
Charles Gilmore, of Gilmore Fine Art in Oxford Street in the city centre, also has a prospective buyer for the most expensive work in his gallery — Louis Le Brocquy’s Man With Open Mouth, reduced by 44% from £125,000 to £70,000.
Up until tomorrow, Mr Gilmore is offering reductions of up to 50% on a range of paintings by local artists .
With their work usually retailing in price for between £1,000 and £15,000, art aficionados are likely to pick up a decent bargain in the sale.
Mr Gilmore (46) — who, on Tuesday, admitted his business was ‘on its knees’ – said his confidence in the market was renewed.
He said: “We hadn’t had a single customer on a Saturday for the last eight weeks — a huge concern considering we can normally make a week’s turnover on a Saturday. We felt that the protests were putting people off, particularly in our city centre location, so we decided to do our bit to attract customers.
“In order to get the economy back on its feet again people need to spend money. We understand that they are going to need an incentive.
“That’s why we didn’t knock down prices by 10%; instead we have brought them down by thousands of pounds and it seems to be working.”
He added: “The Belfast Telegraph’s campaign is ingenious because people out there do have money to spend; they just need to know where to go to make it go further.”
The ongoing flag protests in Belfast have already cost the local economy more than £15m.
Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce called for city businesses owners to support a new petition calling for urgent action and asking for support to safeguard jobs and businesses.