St Patrick's Day opening not worth risk, says Belfast retailer
A menswear retailer in Belfast has said he won't open for business next St Patrick's Day after street disturbances prompted him to close early this year.
Chris Suitor of Suitor Menswear said he had opened as usual on St Patrick's Day but had closed his Rosemary Street store by 3pm.
He said groups of youths congregating around McDonald's in Donegall Place and Primark in Castle Street in the afternoon and early evening - many of whom were draped in tricolours and drinking alcohol - had left him feeling concerned for the safety of his staff.
"Because of this year, we won't be opening up next St Patrick's Day as it just wasn't worth it."
He said he already closed every Twelfth of July but said he was resigned to closing. "The truth of the matter is that we live in a city with a parading culture. The very people who'll be marching on one day will be in my shop on the next."
Victoria Square centre manager Michelle Greeves said it had enjoyed a good St Patrick's Day. There was a "high sales turnover" in its restaurants and retailers, she said.
Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce president Hugh Black said: "St Patrick's Day traditionally is one of the weaker trading days for the retail sector.
"Having spoken to a number of our members, anecdotal evidence suggests that this year's footfall and sales figures are on a par with last year's. Many of the hospitality outlets in the city enjoyed a bumper day with locals and tourists alike soaking up the atmosphere."
Economist John Simpson said some areas of the city such as Royal Avenue, where youths had congregated, could lose potential turnover of tens of thousands of pounds on a day like St Patrick's Day. He said: "Not only are they losing out on normal turnover, but also on an uplift of turnover from a festival like St Patrick's Day. Really, if we want Belfast to be a prosperous European city we want days like St Patrick's Day and the Twelfth of July to be managed so that everyone feels welcome in the city centre and prepared to spend money in it."
PwC NI chief economist Esmond Birnie said the impact of events such as St Patrick's Day and Twelfth of July parades on city centre trade was difficult to assess. "If there is a crowd on the street there could be a surge of spending after the festivities are over but that depends partly on the shop type."
DUP councillor Christopher Stalford added he was "saddened" that a retailer had said it was likely to close on St Patrick's Day. "There needs to be an effort to alter the nature of the event itself and countering the drinking culture in the city centre." But a shop assistant at a Spar convenience store on Royal Avenue said it had enjoyed a good day's trade. "We had no trouble at all, even though there were lots of people around."
Following St Patrick's Day, the PSNI said it had made 11 arrests "in and around the city centre and Holylands areas".