An east Belfast business has been forced to close as a result of the on-going protests and riots over the Union flag, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Entrepreneur John Lund says he has lost between £20,000 to £30,000 in the venture which will pull down the shutters for the last time this afternoon.
It is believed to be the first store to close since the eruption of public disorder began in the run-up to Christmas.
“There is no point in having a business when no one can get to it,” Mr Lund told the Belfast Telegraph.
“We have had riots at both ends of the street and shots fired nearby.
“I feel very, very disappointed.”
Now Mr Lund, who is 72, has written an angry email to First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
It states: “No sane customer is going to visit us and run the gauntlet in these riotous gatherings.
“It would appear that we are now on the brink of returning to the troubles of 1969 and the return of xenophobic sectarianism of the worst kind.”
The interior decorators supply store, off the Albertbridge Road, only opened last year in an expansion of Mr Lund’s successful base in Moira.
When it opened the firm — called Keighley Lund Interiors — sent out 24,000 email ‘shots’ to potential customers in the Greater Belfast area alone.
“We had a lot of people coming back saying they would like to visit but really they were not prepared to take the risk,” Mr Lund explained.
“We had a great location close to the city centre and our stock was well displayed for people to come and see. But they could not get here.
“There were weekend days we were open and there was not a single customer.
“No business can survive that.”
Now Mr Lund is examining the possibility of moving his business abroad and is considering an offer of bank loans to help him set up in Bangladesh.
A former Ulster Unionist Party member who is now a Conservative supporter, Mr Lund said he found the current situation “even more frightening” that the Drumcree protests of the 1990s.
The man who ran a linen mill for more than 30 years added: “I remain in total desperation.”
Apart from his son, the business employed only one other man full-time but more than £20,000 had been spent stocking unique brands of cloth, including Damask Irish linen, antiques and collectables.
“I would say it was pretty unique and was confident it was something to cut our teeth on. But I am adamant we have no alternative but to close down,” Mr Lund added.
His son Casper, who ran the business day to day, added: “We came in one Saturday and all we had all day was a helicopter flying just overhead and not one car in the car park.
“And I don’t blame the people for not coming.
“I think a lot of other businesses in the area are close to the same point,” Mr Lund added.
According to the latest figures, there have been 181 arrests — 50 of them have been juveniles — and 128 charges linked to the unrest sparked by Belfast City Council’s vote to restrict the flying of the Union flag to designated days, rather than all year round.
And more than 100 police officers have been injured since the confrontations began following the council vote in early December.