Belfast Telegraph

Shops are quiet but traders ready to play long game as town is showcased to world

By Donna Deeney

The well-manicured greens of Portstewart Golf Club may draw vast numbers of spectators for the close of this year's Irish Open, but in the town itself it is a different story.

The golf course is within comfortable walking distance from the heart of Portstewart, where the traders have bought into the tournament and bedecked their shop fronts with images of Rory McIlroy and golf balls galore.

However, walking along the promenade, with the smell of the salty water wafting over the seaweed, there is a notable absence of people wearing strange trousers and pastel-coloured sweaters, even at lunchtime.

Inside the shops, those same traders who have geared themselves up for the super-sized influx of summer visitors say they have been left largely twiddling their thumbs.

But with one eye on the bigger picture, they aren't complaining too much.

Kim Brown, who owns Hairtech salon, has reaped the benefit of the tournament with one big star popping in on Tuesday for a haircut.

She said: "I had just been saying I didn't think we would see any benefit from the Irish Open when Padraig Harrington suddenly walked through the door.

"He was a really nice man who was happy to pose for photographs, so we'll get those up on the wall.

"As it turned out, we have been busier than I had thought, but I noticed there are a lot of parking spaces along the promenade, which is unheard of at this time of year."

Elsewhere, the rich aroma of coffee and freshly baked bread and pastries wafts out the door from the Jam Jar Coffee House, owned by Rodney Forsythe.

Inside, the counter shelves are packed with every imaginable delicacy, but again customers are thin on the ground, even at lunchtime.

A disappointed Mr Forsythe said: "With the amount of people expected to be coming to the town, everybody thought there would have been a real benefit but I can't really see it.

"I think it is actually quieter than normal because a lot of people think they won't get into Portstewart or they won't get parked, so they have stayed away.

"They are bussing people into the golf and bussing them back out again.

"There's also the police cones stopping people parking, which is putting people off.

"I honestly can't see any benefit. I think more things could have been laid on in this part of the town to encourage people to come into the town."

John Bradley, who owns Shelia's confectionery shop a few doors down, along with staff member Samantha McClelland, are taking a philosophical approach to the quiet trading week. Ms McClelland said: "It is very quiet during the day but once the golf is over for the day it picks up a bit, because people do come into the town for food.

"We stay open to 10pm so if we are quiet in the earlier part of the day, we get the trade later on, and the fireworks on Saturday night should bring in a good crowd."

Mr Bradley added: "I think we should take this quiet week on the chin because the amount of incredible publicity Portstewart is getting because of the Irish Open will benefit us all in the long-term."

Ronan Cunningham from Cunningham Jewellers has dedicated almost all of his window display to McIlroy, which isn't being lost on people who are passing by.

He said: "The window display has caught people's attention.

"I think people do appreciate the traders all coming together and backing the Irish Open coming to Portstewart, which we are grateful for.

"The footfall has increased in the evening time, but it has to be said most people have come here to watch the golf and a lot of them do get bussed out of town again.

"There is a buzz in the town that the Irish Open is here and anyone who has come into my shop is very positive about it. I'm also delighted that the event is here.

"People have come in here every day who have come specifically for the golf.

"They are customers I normally wouldn't have had if it wasn't here.

"In the long-term, the pictures that are being beamed around the world of here and the north coast will bring people in and they will see what we are lucky enough to look at every day."

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