Traders issue plea for public support
Shoppers took to the streets of Cookstown, Dungannon and Magherafelt in their hundreds as many businesses reopened with the easing of the coronavirus restrictions.
There were long queues at the weekend outside some shops in the Mid Ulster towns especially shoe and clothes outlets.
But the easing of the restrictions also resulted in traffic problems in the town centres with tailbacks and congestion reported on Friday and Saturday.
Cookstown newsagent TP Sheehy said footfall in the high street had definitely increased and expressed the hope that this would continue to be the case.
Mr Sheehy, whose long established business remained open during the lockdown, said he would like to see people shop local and support local businesses as they had done at Christmas.
“People have been driven to shop online and it’s going to be very hard to get people away from continuing to shop this way,” he continued.
“The government decision to close small retailers while letting the bigger outlets remain open has destroyed the high street.
“I don’t understand why a small retailer seeing maybe only 20 customers a day and with all the health regulations in place was told to close when a factory with 200 people or more inside was allowed to stay open.”
Magherafelt Chamber of Commerce President John Keatley said it was good to see the town buzzing again.
But he cautioned people not to get too carried away and continue with the preventative measures to stop Covid spreading.
“It has been depressing time for business owners and we don’t want to see another shutdown,” he said.
He also called for flexibility by the authorities to allow hospitality venues to reopen.
“Businesses have been forced to close after spending a lot of money plans to reopen safely,” he said.
“I would say these businesses should have been allowed to carry out modifications and reopen.”
Mr Keatley said he was just glad that trading had resumed for many businesses as commerce is the life blood of any town.
Stormont Ministers are due to review the regulations again on May 13.
Health Minister Robin Swann remarked that easing restrictions had been hard-earned, but that did not mean we can “ease up in our attitude towards the virus”.
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