Traders hoping return of event after two-year Covid hiatus will kickstart a busy summer
Business owners on the north coast are revving up for the North West 200 road races, which will return this May after being called off in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.
It was the first time since the Second World War the famous event had been cancelled for two years running.
The showpiece attracts upwards of 80,000 bike fans and tourists for race week over the Portrush-Portstewart-Coleraine triangle circuit.
Organisers announced yesterday the 91st NW200 will take place from May 8-14.
The news was welcomed by the hospitality industry in the area — the racing generates around £12m annually for the local economy.
Nicole Morelli, owner of Morelli’s to Go! ice-cream parlour in Portstewart, said she expected the event to bring in “phenomenal trade” this year.
“I’m absolutely delighted. I’m a bit of a racing fan, so I really, really missed it from a personal point of view as well as a business one,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.
“It does bring an awful lot of trade to the town, especially in the run-up to it.
“Actual race day itself can be a little bit quiet, because obviously everyone’s busy out watching the bikes, but hopefully they’ll have the fireworks display as well on the Friday evening.
“As traders and fans, we’ve really missed it. I can’t wait.
“Usually they have an open pits day, where you can walk around, bring your kids and meet the riders, so I get to do that. I’m looking forward to it.
“And, sure, where else could you look for a better place to be than the north coast? It is just gorgeous. We’ve a lot to offer.”
Her brother Damian also owns Morelli’s main ice-cream shop, which was established on Portstewart promenade over a century ago. He said he was “delighted” for the North West’s return, particularly as it would be a week-long occasion.
“It’s so social and there’s lots of events going on around it, it’s not just the one day itself,” he added.
“For us, it’s fantastic, and we will be involved in it this year as well.”
The Morelli family has previously collaborated in charity events linked to the racing, and this year a friend’s mental health organisation, The Olive Branch, has been officially nominated as the NW200’s designated charity.
Darren Gardiner owns Ground Espresso, the popular home-grown coffee shop franchise, which started out in Coleraine.
He noted that there was always a “huge influx of visitors for the North West 200” and he welcomed its return.
He added that “the north west and the coast has stayed busy throughout, even during lockdown”.
“A lot of people were vacationing at home,” he explained.
“But it’s great to see the North West coming back and I would anticipate that being a huge weekend, and a big kickstart to what will probably be a busy summer season up here.
“There’s certainly a bit more confidence from consumers and business.
“So, you’re starting to see investment again — in premises, property and people.
“There’s still a bit of uncertainty around travelling, especially outside Ireland and the UK.
“Because there’s such a demand for ‘staycations’ up round the north coast, there’s very little availability for accommodation in this area from May right through to September, so it will be busy, we already know that.”
He’s also looking forward to the variety of visitors that the races bring.
“It may well not have as many foreign visitors as it would have traditionally had, but we have regularly spoken to customers in our stores from across Europe, such as Germany and Italy, and a lot of people over from Scotland especially and mainland UK, so I definitely think there will still be a big influx of that,” he added.
Confidence is growing and he is continuing to expand the business, having just opened another unit and is beginning to recruit more staff.
“There’s a lot happening in our sector to service that industry,” he said.