THE rate of empty shops in Cookstown has doubled in the past year - and is now above the UK average.
But Cookstown Chamber of Commerce has vowed to work even harder to overcome the current difficulties and said that, while the figure is disappointing, it is a welcome fact that it is below the Northern Ireland average.
New figures show retail vacancies have shot up from six per cent to 12.2 percent in Cookstown, meaning almost one in eight shops lie empty.
And while the figures are below the Northern Ireland average of 19 per cent, this area has a higher vacancy rate than the average UK town.
Cookstown Chamber President Alan Hogshaw said that the strongest businesses can survive the current challenges, and
the emphasis remains on people supporting their local stores.
“We are in the middle of a double dip recession and people have had to cut back on their weekly spend,” said Mr Hogshaw. “The good businesses that invest in some marketing and hold their costs base tight will come through this and prosper.
“The more we shop in our local towns the better all our businesses will do. That’s the message we are encouraging in Cookstown Chamber of commerce: shop local and support you local businesses.”
Other figures, revealed this week after a study by commercial property agency Lisney, show that while Magherafelt’s vacancy rate for retail units did not increase, it remains worse than Cookstown, sitting at 15.2 per cent.
High rates, no reduction in corporation tax and bigger companies going into administration were all offered as possible reasons as to why the overall Northern Ireland rate may have increased in the past year.
Locally Peacocks in Cookstown and Magherafelt closed this year, as did card shop Birthdays, which had been part of the Clinton’s chain.
Independent store The Music Shop in Main Street, Cookstown also closed in the past 12 months.
President of Magherafelt Chamber of Commerce Ian Henry, of Henry Brothers (Magherafelt) Ltd, said that, while he welcomed the fact the vacancy rate there had not increased, business owners are all too aware of the realities of today’s economic climate.
“We are happy that it hasn’t gone up, but it hasn’t eased the burden any either. We hope it won’t rise any further.
“Our rates here in Magherafelt aren’t the highest, but they still act as a penalty for businesses at the minute. We have been and will continue to lobby for those to be decreased.
“We are in favour of any other encouragement which can be given to businesses at this time to try and help get customers through the door.”
Lisney Managing Director, Declan Flynn, said businesses are facing a tough time.
“In retail, business rates remain a major issue,” he said. “We have a situation where the level of business rates levied on shops is completely decoupled from the commercial realities of rents and the trading performance of the retailer. This is unsustainable and will continue to be a significant factor in administrations and rising vacancies, unless addressed.”
“We still haven’t seen a decision on a reduction in corporation tax. Designating Northern Ireland as an Enterprise Zone is another potential option to boost the economy and help make us more competitive. In the areas of GB in which Enterprise Zones exist, they provide a streamlined planning system, tax incentives and business rates relief.
“What is clear is that if nothing is done, the issues identified in this research will become even more acute, and Northern Ireland will continue to lose major potential occupiers to the Republic of Ireland other locations,” he adds.