Stallholders at Belfast’s continental market have reported that trade was slashed by half during Saturday’s flag protest outside City Hall.
What should have been one of the busiest days of the season for festive stallholders transpired to be one of the quietest — prompting some to reconsider returning to Belfast next year.
Stallholders from a range of backgrounds who spoke to the Belfast Telegraph on Sunday said trade fell away on Saturday by as much as 60% — after between 1,500 and 2,000 people gathered at the gates of City Hall for a protest opposing new restrictions on the flying of the Union flag.
Kunwar Basil of the Authentic Indian Cuisine stall, a mainstay of the city’s Christmas Market for the last five years, said the whole weekend had been affected.
“We were 60% down (on trade) from last Saturday. We were told to be prepared for any action but we were not expecting to close,” he said on Sunday.
“Sunday is usually very busy from the start but there were not as many people around. And Monday and Tuesday was also affected. This should be one of the busiest weekends.”
Cecilia (54) — who did not want to give her full name — from Beddy Bears stall added: “The protest should not have been allowed to go ahead when a Continental Market is going on.
“I would have to have a re-assessment now. These stands cost a lot of money and we cannot afford to have days like that. We need every day of trade to cover ourselves.”
Iliya Nikandrov (27), a Russian stallholder, agreed.
“It will make me rethink coming back next year,” he said.
“I have been here three years and I have not seen a protest before. I will have to take it all into consideration when I make my decision (ahead of next year).”
Others were adamant the protests would not change their plans next year.
Philipp Widmer from a Swiss food stall added: “It’s sad this has happened. What shocked me was the decision of the city council to have it (the vote on flag restrictions) at this time. It was bad timing; as a trader, it affects business.”
But customers milling around the Christmas Market on Sunday evening were more optimistic.
Sarah Badger from Cookstown, who was shopping with her husband Philip, said she hoped Saturday’s protest was the end of the flag protests in Belfast city centre.
She said: “I was a bit worried about my 18-year-old daughter coming down here yesterday, but if there was any real trouble she would stay away from it. The trouble is absolutely ridiculous.”
Francis Rock, shopping with his nine-year-old son Michael, added: “I think the politicians need to catch themselves on. Why would they take down a flag just before Christmas?”