Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland footfall dips 6.2% as fears mount on high street

Laura Ashley joins Blue Inc on list of at-risk retailers

Centre director Paul McMahon
Centre director Paul McMahon
Ryan McAleer

By Ryan McAleer

Footfall on Northern Ireland's high street is down 6.2% on last year as fears mount for both online and bricks-and-mortar stores over Christmas.

Menswear chain Blue Inc, which has closed five stores here in recent weeks, has become the first victim of a tough retail environment.

The chain, which entered administration last week, has said its five remaining Northern Ireland stores will stay open as discussions take place about its future.

Ladieswear and interiors firm Laura Ashley is also to close 40 of its 160 stores. It has four here - Belfast, Omagh, Bangor and Coleraine.

The company said yesterday there is no timetable for closures and no list has been prepared.

Meanwhile, online retailer ASOS warned its full-year profits will be lower, blaming a "significant deterioration" in November trading. However in Co Down, fashion retailer Guess has opened a new store in Banbridge's The Boulevard.

According to information service Springboard, the weekend's bad weather brought a 6.2% decline in footfall on NI's high streets year-on-year. That's compared to a fall of just 0.1% UK-wide.

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It comes as retailers gear up for what has been billed as Super Saturday this weekend, when shoppers are expected to spend £1.65bn on the final Saturday before Christmas.

According to the Centre for Retail Research, £1.38bn will be spent on gifts and festive food and drink, while 4.8 million will spend £268m online.

But analysts at Springboard are projecting that footfall will drop even further in the coming week.

Despite the gloomy outlook, the director of Belfast’s CastleCourt shopping centre has said he remains “positive” for the future of the complex.

After suffering a 50% drop in footfall in the wake of the Primark fire in August, CastleCourt has still managed to attract a number of new brands.

Along with the new pedestrian access tunnel in front of Bank Buildings, the latest additions have thrown it a much needed lifeline in the build-up to Christmas.

On Thursday, Danish fashion retailer Vila opened its NI flagship store on the ground floor of CastleCourt. It follows Matalan’s move into the centre’s 24,000 sq ft anchor unit last month, its first Irish city centre store. Irish coffee chain Insomnia has also moved in.

Centre director Paul McMahon revealed that his leasing team is in active talks with other retailers for the new year.

“There are retailers still coming to the high street and some of them are choosing CastleCourt as their first in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“We were like the rest of the city, we were impacted by the fire but there’s no doubt the opening of the tunnel has had a positive effect, both in terms of footfall and the flow of people around the city. I think it’s also got the message out that Belfast is open. It’s part of a psychological message that we are open for business.”

Belfast Telegraph