Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Christmas Market: Business owners urge council to spread the cheer

Belfast Christmas Market
Belfast Christmas Market
Andrew Madden

By Andrew Madden

Belfast's popular Christmas Market has arrived, however, some business owners are less than thrilled.

While thousands of people visit the City Hall attraction to enjoy a kangaroo burger or pick up handmade continental gifts, some Belfast businesses have voiced concerns that profits suffer due to the market's popularity.

Others have said Northern Ireland traders are unable to secure prime locations at City Hall due to the continental competition.

Peter Boyle, owner of successful business chain Argento, said that, while his profits are not particularly affected by market, he sympathises with restaurants and cafes who suffer the most.

Belfast Christmas Market
Belfast Christmas Market

"This is the one time of the year they are supposed to be able to make a profit, and then the market comes along and sucks all the business away," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I was a street trader for many years and there is an argument to be made that, when street trading was first allowed in Belfast, local traders should have been given first refusal for licenses around City Hall."

Gavin Gregg, owner of the City Picnic restaurant on Castle Street, said his profits drop 20% while the market is on.

"The idea of the Christmas Market in the city centre is brilliant... but it doesn't have to be around City Hall," he told BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show.

"There could be three zones that Belfast is split up into in the city centre and all traders, who are paying rates all year round, could take advantage of the market traders being intermingled with the businesses in the different areas.

"It should be split up so it's not all around City Hall, because all the trade goes to the City Hall and your left with all the other businesses, who pay rates all year, having a closed-shop market.

"Let's spread this around, it makes sense, let's not just put this in one place."

Mr Gregg said that even if businesses in the vicinity wanted to set up in the market, all the prime pitches are taken by international traders, which he described as "unfair".

Some 30 continental stalls are set up each year on the City Hall grounds, while a host of others, including some run by Northern Ireland traders, are situated in the surrounding area.

The public enjoying the Christmas Market in Belfast
The public enjoying the Christmas Market in Belfast

Former Belfast City councillor Chris McGimpsey said that the council recognised the problems of some businesses around City Hall and set up units for local traders along Donegall Square North.

"The Christmas Market was set it 20-odd years ago and it has been a phenomenal success, it's been bringing people to Belfast that wouldn't normally visit," he said.

"However this is a legitimate complaint and it is something we have to look at... But the whole concept of a continental market is to bringing continental Europe to Belfast and it's massively successful, there's tens of thousands of people who go.

"I would be in favour of expansion and diversification throughout the city, but the evidence is not that people simply go to the market, shop in the market and leave. About half of people in surveys come back and say they still eat elsewhere and shop elsewhere."

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