A ladieswear shop in a once-thriving east Belfast retail district has reopened as a 'nearly-new' boutique after closing due to the flag protests.
AB2 was one of several shops on Bloomfield Avenue to pull down the shutters earlier this year after the flag protests of December and January prompted would-be shoppers to stay at home.
Footfall in the area was already badly affected by the economic downturn and its impact on disposable incomes – and now at least 50% of its units are empty.
But Jackie Cowden – now the owner of Revamp@AB2 – said she had decided to reopen as second-hand designer shop at 62 Bloomfield Avenue, a property which she also owns.
"AB2 was the original shop and then we closed for a while after Christmas after 10 years, and only reopened doing nearly new designer clothes a few weeks ago," she said.
"It was the flag protests – Bloomfield Avenue just shut down because of that, and it was dreadful. We are now trying to revamp the whole avenue, and it seems to be working really well.
"We want to bring the buzz because there are some lovely places on Bloomfield Avenue."
She said customers had adjusted to the changed business model. "Customers can now come in and leave with three or four items instead of just one.
"Everybody's watching their pennies – they want gorgeous clothes but not full retail prices."
Ballyhackamore and Belmont Road were on the up, she said –but Bloomfield Avenue needed to attract more cafes to give people a reason to spend long periods in the area.
With the exception of a few high street names like All Saints and Karen Millen, the shop sells mainly designer labels such as Save the Queen, Donna Karan, Burberry and Vivienne Westwood.
While the AB2 name continues, other shops disappeared from the strip, including ladieswear shop White Bicycle – now in Holywood, Co Down – Funky Bedrooms, now trading online as Funky Living, and Cocoon, which closed.
The unit where Cocoon traded is now up for let through agents McKibbins. Agent Paul Olding said: "Landlords are willing to work with people but lease length can be a problem, and many tenants may want shorter leases."
Steven McCann, an agent at Burbridge Du Cann, said the avenue was "trying hard" to relaunch itself. "The biggest issue is that most are struggling with rates. They're having a bigger impact on viability than rents. Rates can be as much as rent in some cases."
He said around 50% of the shops were "in a state of flux". "It has struggled over the last six months to a year, and the flag protests certainly didn't help its case. No doubt it had a detrimental impact – the city centre and Newtownards Road all suffered, too, but seem to have bounced back more quickly."