Plans by Tesco to close its Metro store on Royal Avenue in Belfast city centre have been assessed as starkly illustrating the difficulties facing the retail sector.
As Belfast Chamber Chief Executive Simon Hamilton notes, the decision comes “hot on the heels of the closure of Eason” – whose seven book and stationery stores will not be reopening.
They have been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Tesco plans to close the Metro store when its current lease runs out in the next year.
The company says it is an “isolated decision” and that it will continue to trade from its other nine Belfast stores. It will also try to find roles for affected staff in other branches.
However, Mr Hamilton says the news “should act as a spur to the NI Executive to take the need to rejuvenate city and town centres more seriously”.
He added: “The retail sector has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was already facing huge challenges, but the restrictions imposed to stop the spread of Covid-19 are massive and will be felt for some time to come.”
Belfast Chamber is calling for the Executive to work closely with stakeholders to form a taskforce focused on revitalising city and town centres, while also putting further financial support in place.
“Ensuring that our high streets are clean, safe and welcoming environments at this difficult time will be key to boosting footfall and improving trade,” Mr Hamilton said.
“Belfast Chamber stands ready to work with the Executive and others to build back our city and high streets across the region.”
Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast Paul McCusker also described the news as a blow and said he had raised his concerns with Tesco.
“This is a very popular store in Belfast city centre in an iconic building,” he added.
“We need to ensure that all the staff working here will have their jobs protected.”