Savvy Sprucefield visitors keeping a close eye on their purse strings
Published 18/02/2013 | 04:20
Flag protests, bad weather and an increasing squeeze on the purse strings.
These are just a few of the reasons given by shoppers who are coming out in worryingly low numbers.
The Belfast Telegraph on Sunday visited Northern Ireland's biggest out-of-town shopping centre, Sprucefield, on the outskirts of Lisburn.
It was booming with business with thousands of shoppers entering its doors in what appeared to buck the trend of falling trade identified by the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium.
But one thing all customers who spoke to this newspaper agreed on was that they are shopping less – and spending less when they do shop.
Louise Hunter (39) from Lisburn said like many of her friends, she has cut back on the amount of shopping she does.
"I visit Sprucefield once every six weeks and Belfast city centre once a month," she said.
"There are definitely less people around and lots of empty shops. Nobody has any money. I mainly shop in Lisburn for my groceries and also use eBay quite a bit. I know I spend less than I used to."
Retired pensioner John Blain (70s) from Newtownabbey said he has noticed Abbeycentre on the outskirts of north Belfast is not as busy as it used to be.
"I have definitely noticed less people out shopping," he said.
"An indication of that is that I never have any problem parking in the Abbeycentre car park.
"I think people are shopping less for a combination of reasons, including the flag protests, bad weather and a shortage of disposable cash.
"I like to take a run into Belfast to Victoria Square and CastleCourt. I'm not so fond of street shops, I like everything under the one roof."
Loretta Vaughan (39) from Armagh agreed that "everyone is cutting back".
"I know myself I don't buy the same luxuries I would have done last year," she said.
"I was in the centre of Belfast on Friday and it was very quiet.
"It's a symptom of people not having money and I think people from outside Belfast can be scared to come into the city because of the flag protests.
"I live in Armagh and it's very quiet for shopping, there is nothing in it."
Karen Harding (43), a mental health worker from Tandragee, said she is "shopping less than I used to".
"Sprucefield is not less busy," she said. "Shopping streets are now full of charity shops and boarded up shops.
"I think people are noticing that everything is more expensive these days."
Sprucefield has been at the centre of a planning row over an application by John Lewis to open its first Northern Ireland store there.
The long-running saga took another twist last month when the luxury retailer withdrew plans. It cited an earlier decision taken by Environment Minister Alex Attwood to limit further development in the area to "bulky goods" like furniture.
Elizabeth Ward (62) from Hillsborough said she would have liked to have seen John Lewis open at the out-of-town location, despite opposition from Lisburn traders.
"I wouldn't have minded John Lewis being here if it was stand alone, but not other shops too, as that would kill the town centre.
"And car parking kills town centres. I think the first hour or two should be free," she added.
Joanne Hunter (37), a bookmakers manager, said she has noticed "everywhere has a sale on" and there has been an increase in the number of empty shops in Lisburn.
"People have lost their jobs or they are afraid of losing their jobs," she said.
"They just don't have the same amount of money to spend.
"When I get to Tesco I watch out for special offers, but they are not that special. Lots of cheaper shops like Primark and charity shops seem to do okay."