Ann Summers ruffling feathers in Ballymena
It’s the heartland of Northern Ireland’s so-called ‘Bible belt’, where the regular church-goers are staunchly proud of their traditional values.
But the opening of a new high street store in Ballymena is set to ruffle a few feathers among the moral guardians of the town.
Leading retailer Ann Summers, which specialises in sex toys and lingerie, has announced it is setting up in Ballymena and Newtownabbey, two traditional power bases of the DUP.
Already boasting more than 100 stores across the UK and the Republic, including a hugely successful store in Belfast city centre, Ann Summers describes itself as an adult shop aimed mostly at female customers.
As well as stocking a wide range of sex toys, including a variety of vibrators, it also sells lubricants, body paint, whips, handcuffs, sexy underwear and dressing up gear, such as kinky French Maid outfits.
Although no one from Ann Summers’ main office confirmed the opening of the two stores, staff at the Belfast shop said both new outlets would sell the normal range of sex toys and underwear.
A recruitment advertisement in this weekend’s media described the chain as “a champion of female strength and sexuality”, adding “we’re daring too”.
But the news that the chain is to open in Ballymena has annoyed DUP mayor Maurice Mills, who said he felt it had no place in the town.
“Obviously I’m not happy about this development,” he said. “I really don’t think it is in the best interest of the younger generation, in fact of any generation.
“We have a code of ethics to live by and I’m afraid this does not quite fit that code.”
Mr Mills said he would be surprised to learn that there was a demand for Ann Summers in Ballymena.
“From a personal point of view and from the people I associate with, I can’t see there being a demand,” he said.
“I would certainly prefer if it wasn’t here, but I don’t think there are too many steps I can
take to stop it. It all depends on how people react to it, and then maybe we can see what can be done as public representatives.”
The shop is also due to open in Newtownabbey, where local Alliance councillor Tom Campbell said it would be a welcome move for the local economy.
“At this time of a recession, when jobs are hard to come by, I think it’s a good news story for the borough that Ann Summers is opening here,” he said.
“I certainly don’t have a problem with it. It is a well-known high street chain, a very successful chain, and it provides a service for those who shop there.”
Mr Campbell said it was not up to him to make any type of moral judgment on its customers.
“It’s a business, providing a service and creating jobs and I welcome Ann Summers to Newtownabbey,” he said