Belfast Telegraph

Bloomfield Avenue traders fear more businesses will shut

By Anna Maguire

It was once known as east Belfast’s answer to the stylish Lisburn Road, with its boutiques and trendy cafes.

But now its future as a shopping hub hangs in the balance.

Traders on Bloomfield Avenue fear their businesses will become a thing of the past after 10 weeks of flag protests on top of grinding economic problems.

Four shops on the short strip have decided to call it a day. Another four are expected to close by May 2014.

Proprietors at remaining outlets are concerned over what the impending line of shutters will mean for them. “People come to us because we have built up our reputation,” Alan Revell, co-proprietor of Chatters Coffee Shop, said.

“Then they have a nosey around. But if there’s nothing to nosey around at, this is going to become a very dull, grey area.”

Crippling rates — higher than upmarket Ballyhackamore, according to Alan — are blamed for the avenue’s predicament.

One shop owner — who claimed Bloomfield Avenue was “dead” before the protests — said she pays £15,500 in annual rates and rent before she “makes a penny”.

But Saturday protests about the lowering of the Union flag over City Hall were the “straw that broke the camel’s back”, Raymond Brady, Chatters’ co-proprietor, added.

“We had an 80% fall in customers on Saturdays,” he said.

“Two Saturdays ago the protest was on and there was a police cordon halfway up the avenue. Some of our customers could not get back to their cars. They were trapped.

“By May of next year eight shops will have gone here.”

Choice fashion store is relocating — although the lease on its premises runs until March 2014.

“I think it will become a thing of the past, Bloomfield Avenue,” Karen Clements, Choice’s manager, said.

“Over the last 10 weeks we have been losing £2,000 to £3,000 a week.

“Bloomfield Avenue was dying anyway. But they (flag protests) did damage.”

The White Bicycle fashion boutique, which will also relocate in May, has been on Bloomfield Avenue for 30 years.

“Our footfall halved during the protests,” Tori Cousins, owner of The White Bicycle, said. “I’m heartbroken to go. Ten years ago there was a buzz about here.”

Mr Brady added: “The image of east Belfast now is a troubled area. It used to be west Belfast in the 1970s and 1980s, now it’s east Belfast. This has set us back years.”

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