Shoppers share their delight as NI stores re-open

As non-essential stores reopened for business in NI on Friday HELEN MCGURK spoke to three local people about where they’ll be going and what they want to buy

Saturday, 1st May 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Saturday, 1st May 2021, 9:32 am
Sinead Doyle

After four months of enforced hibernation due to the lockdown, the ‘Open for Business’ signs finally appeared on clothes shops, homewares outlets, jewellery stores, and other non-essential retailers on Friday, but would consumers be flocking to towns and cities to splash the cash, or has the pandemic led to a change in shopping mindset?

Avril Keys, communications manager, influencer and self-confessed ‘shopaholic’ from Belfast, said lockdown has changed her shopping habits.

“I no longer get a buzz from fast fashion. I am more mindful about my purchases and I’m investing in items that I really need, rather than the next ‘must have’.

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Avril Keys

“Retail has changed forever since Covid with many of us forced online but it’s been the saviour of independent retailers who’ve been able to survive the past year, in part because they’re better able to flex and adapt but also thanks to the lockdown push to support small and shop local.

“In fact, I haven’t shopped online with any of the ‘big’ high street brands this lockdown and it may come as a surprise to those who know me but I’ll not be rushing into the city centre this week.

“My first port of call will be Alana in Lurgan – a wonderful family-owned independent shop which has expanded since last year thanks to some impressive lockdown pivoting.

“I’ll be visiting Moi Boutique in Bangor with its beautifully curated range of brands, many of which can’t be easily found locally and Cameo Boutique in Ballyclare, where Sarah the owner can in 10 minutes fill her fitting room with outfits for me to try on because she knows me so well. That’s the beauty of shopping small.”

John Hooks and his father Bertie

Avril said that after a year of more relaxed dressing, her first purchase is going to be a pair of Lola Cruz trainers from Honey on Belfast’s Lisburn Road.

“Not a throwaway pair of trainers but a pair I’ll have for years and years.”

Sinead Doyle bought her first with husband Dominic in 2018 and over the last few years have been slowly turning their house into a home.

The 38-year-old PR & marketing specialist said her budget DIY efforts accelerated in the first lockdown and she has been documenting her home improvements and sharing hints and tips on her lifestyle blog: www.eyeheartthis.com and on Instagram (@sineaddoyle) since.

“They say you only miss something when it’s gone and that has most definitely been the case when it comes to shopping,” said Sinead.

She added that online shopping, whilst useful and helpful for “functional purchases”, can never replace the in-store experience.

“I’m not a functional shopper but an emotive one. I like shopping when I’m not looking for anything in particular - I like to browse and discover something new that I wasn’t necessarily looking for. If I go with a list, I’ll come home with nothing. If I go with no set ideas in mind, I’ll stumble across something, or an item will catch my eye. That’s the way I like to shop.

“I like to be able to see things - particularly furniture and larger decorative items - in person, so I can picture them in the space and get a real sense of the quality and finish. Instagram and Pinterest are amazing for inspiration and online shopping has filled the gap while we’ve needed it to but I haven’t been shopping for those larger ‘non-essential’ items during lockdown.”

Sinead said for her, shopping is about how it makes you feel.

“The retail experience is a multi-sensory one and you don’t get that same sense of occasion when shopping online. The interaction with people that we have all missed so much is a big part of it; some of my favourite interiors stores are independents, where I know the staff by name and they have helped me to source items they know I will love for my home. I have missed them a lot over these last few months.

“I’m really excited to get back to my local lifestyle store Linen and Latte in Glengormley for a browse of their new homeware and houseplants ranges and to have a good chat, then a great takeaway coffee and one of their legendary buns too,” said Sinead.

“Other interiors/homewares hotspots that are on my hit list are the lovely Maven on the Lisburn Road. My favourite flower/ plant shop Memento on the Ormeau Road is opening a new and improved store with a wider lifestyle offering, so I’m excited to see what they have been up to.

“On my next trip up to the North Coast, my first stop will be my favourite BTS Concept Store in Coleraine, which has a beautifully curated collection of Nordic inspired contemporary interiors and lifestyle pieces. I’d buy the whole store if my bank balance allowed.”

Sinead added that she can’t wait for a “good rummage” around the charity shops too.

“I do try to buy second hand / pre-loved for our home whenever I can and it’s a great way to add interest to your interiors, whilst keeping to a budget. In the first lockdown I found a framed Mona Lisa print, which I used for the basis of a collage - adding a rainbow background with washi tape and a mask cut out from a newspaper supplement. I called her my ‘Corona Mona’ and had prints made, which I sold in aid of NI Hospice.”

John Hooks (44), a father of two from Markethill, Co. Armagh said he has really missed clothes shopping.

“For me, nothing beats going into a shop and browsing or trying on different things.

“Shopping online is simple and straightforward, and I have certainly become more accustomed to it during lockdown, but it doesn’t feel very special for me. Plus, after lockdown trying on clothes will be important as I am sure my sizes have increased!

“I work in the centre of Belfast and I really enjoyed either spending half an hour at lunch in Victoria Square or going to a restaurant for a meal.

“The food and drink scene in Northern Ireland is something we should all be proud of and I am looking forward to being able to dine out again. My last meal out was at the brilliant Overwood at Balloo House, Killinchy last year and it seems like a lifetime ago! Their food is amazing and I can’t wait to get back.

“At the weekend I often go to the Spires Retail Park in Armagh for a few food items. I go with the intention of getting what I need and coming straight back but now everything has re-opened and Poundland has just opened a store there (who doesn’t love exploring their shelves?) I may be gone a lot longer.

“Looking a little further forward, Armagh Observatory and Planetarium is set to re-open in June after its refurbishment and I am really looking forward to seeing the new additions.”

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