Retailers stunned as axe falls on Belfast's In Shops centre
Retailers in one of Belfast's longest-established shopping centres have received the shocking news that they are to lose their premises in a matter of weeks.
The In Shops centre on High Street, which employs 60 people, is being forced to close down after 26 years due to increases in rent. The move will force 25 shops to either relocate or shut.
Staff and shoppers alike have expressed their sadness that the centre, which always had a unique and alternative feel, will close.
In Shops has 97 retail units available, but there are currently only 25 retailers.
Since a 25-year lease ran out last May, the management had been negotiating with the landlord, but failed to reach an agreement.
Manager Jean Bryce told the Belfast Telegraph that while the news came as a shock, the economic situation had a part to play.
“We only got notice on Thursday night and we are to be out by June 26,” she said.
“But the fact is, we don't have any customers, the economic situation being the way it is.”
Stephen Seenan, proprietor of Kopyright embroidery and printing, has operated his business in the centre for 25 years.
“We wanted to stay, as we have generated a good trade and we want to keep our customers, but unfortunately the end has come and it's very abrupt,” he said.
“It's a shock to the system. There has definitely been a decline in footfall, but it has been horrible the way it happened.
“I have my customer base, but it will be much worse for others that have come more recently. For example, there is a Chinese shop that opened just three weeks ago.”
Long-standing business owner Dr William Chen, who has run a Chinese medical centre and gift shop for the past 12 years, described the news as “unfair”.
“I am totally shocked to hear this news — I had no idea,” he said.
“I have been loyally paying my rent — a total of £300,000 over the past 12 years — and I would have expected more courtesy.”
Regular shoppers Kenneth and Suzy McClernon expressed their sadness at the news.
Kenneth, from Cregagh in Belfast, said: “I've been coming to In Shops since I was a child.
“I remember my mum taking me to the arcade. It's sad that it's closing down.”
His wife Suzy added: “There are little shops here that you just can't get anywhere else.”
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, commented: “It's particularly sad because those units were independent retailers and there aren't many of those in the city centre.
“It was a bit different, a bit distinctive from the same old high street shops. It’s a sad loss.”
In Shops is a national network of shopping centres. It is owned by French firm Group Geraud. There are 32 branches across the UK. The Belfast centre opened in 1986 with space for 97 units and a 2,000 sq ft foodhall. The centre has been a haven for small and independent businesses and over the years had numerous tenants including two banks. Current businesses include three burger bars and shops selling vintage clothes, jewellery, gifts, electronics and a watchmakers as well as outlets providing body piercing and hair styling.