Recession's woes a challenge for us all
The recession's severity and its impact on the retail sector are well-illustrated by Fultons Fine Furnishings and its property and commercial arm which are now in the hands of administrators.
Fultons has been a flagship of the upmarket furniture trade for the past 50 years and its stores have been bywords for quality and style.
Its current situation, in which it will continue to trade under administration, is further evidence that no retail trader, of whatever background or quality, is immune to the recession, and there are fears that the situation might become even worse in Northern Ireland.
Fultons is one of the better-known names in a long list of firms badly hit by the recession. The high-profile company Dekko, another quality furniture retailer, closed some time ago, and last year around 1,000 independent retailers went out of business.
This is a shocking statistic in a province as relatively small as Northern Ireland, and some experts fear that this trend could double in the current year.
There are many theories for such a downturn. Some people believe the success of Ikea and some supermarkets has squeezed many traders out of existence, at a time when the public has had to be more discerning about spending its money.
There are no simple answers to this major problem. Independent retailers need to do more to offer new alternatives in a shopper's market, but many have already attempted to do so and yet the downward trend continues.
The Stormont Executive also bears a heavy responsibility to trying to helped the hard-pressed retail sector, but introducing effective initiatives is often easier said than done.
At a time of individual belt-tightening, every retailer is at risk, and only those with special attractions and goods to offer may be best-placed to weather the storm.
The downturn in the retail sector not only creates further unemployment, but it also restricts the choice of shoppers. To that extent we are all worse off.