Heartbreak for butchers as small businesses feel force of cost-of-living crisis

Pat O'Kane opened a butcher's shop in Coleraine during the coronavirus pandemic.

It didn't just survive - it thrived.

But the cost-of-living crisis has done what Covid couldn't do - it killed off Pat's business.

He'd tried to absorb the rising price of wholesale meats, but spiralling energy costs were simply too much to bear.

"Heart-breaking, that's an understatement," says Pat. 

"It wasn't just our livelihood, it was our hobby. But the footfall is just not on those streets.

"The electricity is to blame, the electricity is the one that's closed our door. It's the straw that broke the camel's back."

As he pulled down the shutters on his New Row premises, others nearby were showing the scars of this economic downturn: signs saying property to let, or closing down sale.

Empty shops, the victims of a high street crisis created by a triple-whammy of tax increases, interest rates, and inflation.

Jamie Hill is Coleraine's Business Improvement Manager. His job is to showcase what Coleraine has to offer potential investors and budding entrepreneurs.

"But there's other issues," Mr Hill says, "there's a staffing crisis, we're struggling to get the right people into the right jobs in towns, and we've the highest business rates relative to rent of anywhere in the world."

Shutters are coming down, in some cases for good. Businesses are struggling to stay afloat under the weight of spiralling energy costs.

Mary-Anne Blaney runs Daisy-Mae boutique in Coleraine's Kingsgate Street. Her energy costs mean no heating when it's cold, and no air-conditioning when the sun shines. 

"Our energy bills used to be £100 per month but my bill there for March and April was £350. That's more than treble, and it's scary.

"We don't even have the heating on anywhere near as much as we would through winter, so to see that price is just astronomical."

Mary-Anne says customers are reluctant to spend: "The things that would be luxury, people aren't doing it as much, they're just not coming out and buying."

David Boyd, the President of Causeway Chamber of Commerce, says high street businesses have to ride out the storm, but he's appealing for help from our politicians and our local shoppers.

"We've got to be resilient, which retailers have been", said Mr Boyd, "Our members have been very resilient and we have to continue to be so but we do need help, and the help has to come from Stormont as well as locally."

At Coleraine town hall a jobs fair was offering some hope, a chance to get a foot on the employment ladder.

But right now some business people believe the cost of living game is offering more snakes than ladders.

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