Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

Nice facades can't mask retail crisis in Northern Ireland

The new Garrison in Ballymoney.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
The new Garrison in Ballymoney.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
The Courthouse in Bushmills.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Having a cuppa in Ballymoney.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
M&J Groves in Ballymoney.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Lukes of Ballymoney.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Hemphill furniture in Ballymoney.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Torrens clothes shop in Bushmills.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
If the hat fits in Bushmills.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Barristers at work in Bushmills.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Shopping at Clarkes in Bushmills.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
The Barbour Shop in Bushmills.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
The Mill in Ballymoney.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Window shopping in Ballymoney.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
The Mill in Ballymoney.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Racing Legends.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Balmer's Motor Repairs in Ballymoney.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Racing Legends.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Snapping the music shop in Ballymoney.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
A woman walks past a derelict shop, its windows covered in giant posters to make it look like a cafe, in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, Thursday, June 6, 2013. Organizers of the G-8 summit of world leaders June 17-18 in Northern Ireland have spent weeks sprucing up the facades of businesses all around the County Fermanagh venue. Their use of window-sized posters to make them appear like thriving businesses with fully stocked shelves, has proved most eye-catching indeed, eye-fooling. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
Northern Ireland- 21st June 2013 Mandatory Credit - Photo-Jonathan Porter/Presseye. False shop fronts on the Lower Newtownards Road in east Belfast.
Northern Ireland- 21st June 2013 Mandatory Credit - Photo-Jonathan Porter/Presseye. False shop fronts on the Lower Newtownards Road in east Belfast.
Northern Ireland- 21st June 2013 Mandatory Credit - Photo-Jonathan Porter/Presseye. False shop fronts on the Lower Newtownards Road in east Belfast.
A pedestrian walks pass stickers applied to the windows of a former butcher?s shop in Belcoo, Northern Ireland, outside Enniskillen on June 1, 2013. The stickers give the premises the superficial appearance of a open business. More than 100 properties within range of the Lough Erne resort which hosts the G8 Summit have been tidied up, painted or power-hosed. Britain is hosting this year's summit on June 17-18. AFP PHOTO/ PETER MUHLY (Photo credit should read PETER MUHLY/AFP/Getty Images)
Northern Ireland- 21st June 2013 Mandatory Credit - Photo-Jonathan Porter/Presseye. False shop fronts on the Lower Newtownards Road in east Belfast.
A man walks past an empty shop, which has been covered with artwork to make it look more appealing, in the village of Bushmills on the Causeway Coast August 19, 2013. One of the homes of Irish whiskey has taken a scheme developed in Northern Ireland of erecting fake shop fronts where derelict buildings lie and has truly run with it in a bid to woo tourists. Bushmills, best known as the village where the whiskey of the same name was distilled for the first time 400 years ago, is now also becoming recognisable for the artwork and graphics that brighten up shop fronts left empty during the economic downturn. Picture taken August 19, 2013. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton (NORTHERN IRELAND - Tags: BUSINESS SOCIETY TRAVEL TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) ATTENTION EDITORS: PICTURE 13 OF 20 FOR PACKAGE 'NORTHERN IRELAND'S TROMPE L'OEIL' SEARCH 'BUSHMILLS ART' FOR ALL IMAGES
Having a cuppa in Ballymoney.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
M&J Groves in Ballymoney.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Lukes of Ballymoney.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Hemphill furniture in Ballymoney.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Torrens clothes shop in Bushmills.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Shopping at Clarkes in Bushmills.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
The Barbour Shop in Bushmills.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Window shopping in Ballymoney.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Balmer's Motor Repairs in Ballymoney.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Snapping the music shop in Ballymoney.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Press Eye Photography Wednesday 16th April 2014 Photographer Russell Pritchard / Presseye.com Lisburn Square fake shop fronts
Press Eye Photography Wednesday 16th April 2014 Photographer Russell Pritchard / Presseye.com Lisburn Square fake shop fronts
Press Eye Photography Wednesday 16th April 2014 Photographer Russell Pritchard / Presseye.com Lisburn Square fake shop fronts
Press Eye Photography Wednesday 16th April 2014 Photographer Russell Pritchard / Presseye.com Lisburn Square fake shop fronts
Press Eye Photography Wednesday 16th April 2014 Photographer Russell Pritchard / Presseye.com Lisburn Square fake shop fronts
Press Eye Photography Wednesday 16th April 2014 Photographer Russell Pritchard / Presseye.com Lisburn Square fake shop fronts

Drive through some of our cities or towns and you could be forgiven for thinking that shopkeepers have never had it so good. To the casual observer there is hardly a vacant shopfront to be seen – but it is all an illusion. For some £8m has been spent on 59 schemes to paint or, literally, paper over the cracks in this business sector.

Talented artists and the use of large scale photographic images of thriving retail businesses have made some of our high streets look like Hollywood film lots. In fairness, they present a much more pleasant view of those high streets than boarded up premises. Nothing quite paints a picture of decline like derelict buildings with shop names fading and graffiti scrawled across the chipboard shutters.

The fake shopfronts idea was spawned in New York and appropriately has been adopted here to present a positive image of the province primarily for the recent G8 conference and the upcoming Giro d'Italia cycle race. There were few retail eyesores for the television cameras or newspaper photographers to focus on.

Image, of course, is important, especially in a province which is hoping to increase its tourist footfall. Who wants to go to a place where the economy is apparently in decline? Yet the camouflage is only a short term solution which will eventually be seen through. More incentives are required to entice shopping back to town centres, including revision of parking charges to encourage shoppers to desert the free out-of-town malls.

And there also needs to be more imagination. Not all the empty shops are going to re-open due to the changing nature of retailing and the increasing emphasis on online shopping. Farmers' markets and craft days are two examples, but perhaps towns or streets need to create a themed identity such as centres for antiques, books or specialist hobby shops – the type of retailing that requires high levels of customer service and knowledge which cannot be found in the pile-'em-high, sell-'em-cheap outlets. One thing is sure, even the most stunning artwork is no long term solution to a retailing crisis.

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