Northern Ireland still big draw for southern shoppers
Rumours of its demise have been greatly exaggerated -- cross-border shopping is continuing to draw large numbers of shoppers north this Christmas.
It may not be the stampede it once was, but even the blanket of snow covering Northern Ireland yesterday failed to deter thousands of bargain hunters who headed to Newry.
Jean and James Lowndes from Rolystown, Swords Co Dublin, who had two full trolleys in Sainsbury, said they shopped up north every couple of weeks because the price gaps were still enormous .
"We're buying Irish meat and vegetables here that have come across the border, but are still much cheaper than at home,'' said Mr Lowndes. A car jack was £90 (€105) compared with €208 at home, while shampoo was nearly half the price.
Three students, meanwhile, pushed an enormous trolley laden with vodka and mixers.
"There's eight of us share a house in Wicklow and we're having a party on Christmas night so we thought we'd fill up here," one said.
Having done their research online, they reckoned the final bill would come in at €700-€800, saving them at least €400 on what they'd spend at home.
Quays shopping centre manager Cathal Austin said that southern business was down by about a third this year, but he said there were still savings available on alcohol, perfume and DVDs.
Between 35,000 to 40,000 people from the Republic were still coming to the shopping centre each week, with many of them in Newry's natural catchment area, he said.
"I listen to Brian Lenihan talking about patriotism, and I understand that wish to shop local, but people need value and the reality is there are still great bargains to be had here," he added.
Southern number plates were strongly represented in the car park yesterday, with Louth, Meath and Dublin plates the most common, but others from as far away as Kilkenny and Limerick.
Though busy, it was a far cry from previous years when there were so many southern shoppers queuing rows used to break out over parking spots, a sales assistant in Debenhams said.
In Argos, an assistant agreed there had been a big dip in business, with the changed exchange rate and VAT rates no longer making the price gap as attractive.
Gwen Carr and Carmel Dunne from Dundalk said they came every few weeks to do grocery shopping, though they preferred to do their gift shopping at a leisurely pace at home.
Fiona Hallinan from Drogheda said she preferred to spend her money locally in general, but felt it was worth travelling for a big Christmas shop.
Another young shopper was thrilled to discover she could buy two bottles of Baileys for £25 (€29) -- she said she would have paid €25 at home for one.
However, some shoppers said the range of special offers on alcohol in the Republic this Christmas made that element of cross-border shopping less of a draw -- although judging by all the southern accents in Sainsbury's alcohol section, not everybody was convinced.
Figures from the Republic's Central Statistics Office show that one in seven people travelled north to shop in the 12 months to June, spending €418m, but VAT changes, price cuts and a worsening exchange rate have stemmed the flow.