12 new shops open in town so far this year

Despite public perceptions that Ballymena’s retail offering has been in decline, new figures reveal that 12 new businesses have set up in town since the start of this year.

And the ‘newbies’ come from across the retail and hospitality spectrum ranging from cafes, photographers and outdoor clothing retailers to a barber, a podiatrist, and a furniture store.

The encouraging statistics have been unveiled by the town’s Business Improvement District (BIDS) team as they count down towards the launch of Northern Ireland’s first such scheme on June 18.

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The BID, which is run by its members, will spend £1.5m over five years on initiatives to market the town and help traders to attract more customers. Three quarters of the BID’s 488 members are from the retail sector.

Damian O'Hagan - ZipyardDamian O'Hagan - Zipyard
Damian O'Hagan - Zipyard

Chairman of the BID company Terry Robb said: “It is a really positive sign that such a variety of new businesses have chosen to set up in Ballymena town centre. We want to make Ballymena one of the most vibrant and diverse shopping and leisure destinations in the region and it seems that an increasing number of business owners are buying into that vision. As well as the new businesses which have chosen to set up in the town centre, we are equally encouraged by the investment being put in by existing traders such as the extension to the SPAR on Wellington Street. This is proof that business owners have confidence in the town centre and with further investment and marketing support on the way through the BID, the future looks bright for Ballymena.”

Explaining why he chose to locate his business Velo Culture in the town centre, Kris Fairfield said: “We are a family run business and our first store is in Portrush. We felt there was a gap in the market in Ballymena for a ‘boutique-style’ cycling shop as there are very well known and well followed cycling clubs in the area. The unit on Greenvale Street was the perfect location for us as footfall is high in the town and there’s plenty of room for customers to pull up outside the store to leave their bikes off for a service. So far, business has been good to us and have made good contacts in the town……long may it continue!”

Damian O’Hagan has established The Zip Yard. He added: “The opportunity presented itself to open ‘The Zip Yard’ and as I’m local to Ballymena, of course it was my first choice of location. We had looked at other locations in town but Ballymoney Street worked out the best for our needs. There’s a high footfall traffic throughout the day and good anchor stores in close proximity. We have also developed good working relationships with some businesses who will also send their customers to us if they need any alterations.”

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So far this year the town centre has already benefited from £55,000 of investment being put into the Mill Street and Castle Street area through the Department for Social Development’s Revitalise Scheme.

Emma White - Podiatry BusinessEmma White - Podiatry Business
Emma White - Podiatry Business

According to most recent Springboard Vacancy Rate report Ballymena’s vacancy rate has been below the Northern Ireland average of 16.4% for the past year and figures sourced in early 2015 by the Mid & East Antrim Borough Council suggest the vacancy rate may be as low as 14%.

Terry Robb commented: “We are seeing new business growth across Ballymena and we want to maintain the momentum so those shop vacancy rates continue to drop. As the new Business Improvement District initiative kicks into action next month, we are confident that much more can be achieved.”

The businesses that have set up in Ballymena town centre in the past six months include:

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Velo Culture, Greenvale Street; FotoFinish, Greenvale Street; Emma Young Podiatrist, Mill Street; Turning Point, Charity, Mill Street; Be YOUitiful, Photography, Church Street; The Music Rooms, Church Street; Simon Houston Style Bar, Wellington Street; The Wellington Barber, Wellington Street; The Zipyard, Ballymoney Street; Ziggy Cig, Ballymoney Street; Bob and Berts, Church Street; Tilly Anna’s, upcycled furniture, Springwell Street; Regatta Great Outdoors, Ballymoney Street; Weir Travel, Mill Street