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Strong pound hits cross-border trade for Northern Irish indies

The strength of sterling is taking its toll on womenswear independents near the border of Northern Ireland as shoppers from the Republic stay away.

For many years, Northern Irish retailers have benefited as customers travelled from south of the border to take advantage of pound-for-euro exchange rates.

However, many of those independents have experienced a drop-off in trade as the pound has strengthened. This month, the pound climbed to its highest rate since November 2007, equivalent to €1.44.

One casualty is former Drapers Independents Awards finalist womenswear boutique Calle 33, which is located at 181 Main Street in Lisnaskea, Fermanagh. It will close its doors for good next month after seven years.

Owner Aine McCaffrey said: “This was our toughest year since opening and the strength of the sterling definitely hit our euro customers. A lot of businesses in the area are suffering. Costs are very high, from rent and rates to music licences, insurance and VAT, so it’s difficult to make a profit. Even the big womenswear multiples have been hit.”

Hilary Gardner, owner of mother-of-the-bride boutique Elegant Lady, also in Lisnaskea, agreed: “We were very dependent on southern trade and still see some, but it is nothing like the influx we used to have. I noticed a drop-off last autumn but this season has been much worse; the rate difference is too high so they aren’t coming, and when they do they are hesitant to buy as when they convert prices to euros they are much more expensive.”

Edel Liggett, co-owner of contemporary womenswear boutique Harry & George in Enniskillen, Fermanagh, said the store had seen fewer shoppers from the Republic of Ireland.

“We can track the euro cash coming through and there has been a big decrease. There was a big boom a few years ago where busloads of shoppers from the south would come to Enniskillen as the euro was strong, but that was never going to last forever.”

However, she added: “For occasionwear for proms or weddings people are still willing to travel and spend whatever the cost.”

Occasionwear independent City Lady Boutique, which has branches in Enniskillen, Fermanagh and County Cavan in the Republic of Ireland, introduced a pound-for-euro offer in the Enniskillen shop earlier this year in order to tempt shoppers from the south back into store. For example, an item listed for £10 is sold for €10.

Shop manager Asta McCabe said: “We had to do something. The sterling was so strong against the euro, so we had to take matters into our own hands. We had lots of northern shoppers coming south to our boutique in Cavan as it was working out cheaper for them, so we’ve introduced a pound-for-euro rate in Enniskillen and it seems to be working.”

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