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Page last updated at 21:58 GMT, Tuesday, 14 October 2008 22:58 UK

Seeking bargains across borders

By Mark Simpson
BBC Ireland Correspondent

Shopping
Shoppers are stocking up across the border in Northern Ireland

In a quiet corner of the United Kingdom, nestled on the Irish border, is a business community managing to beat off the credit crunch.

Whisper it gently, but retailers in Newry are closer to boom than bust.

Shoppers are flocking across the border from the Irish Republic to take advantage of the Euro's strength against the British pound.

Indeed, on some days at the city's largest retail outlet, there are almost more southern visitors than northern locals.

What is more, the latest Irish budget has raised the price of goods like cigarettes, so even more people may now be tempted to make a cross-border shopping trip.

Alcohol, sweets and furniture are particularly popular with the day-trippers. Many just come to do their weekly grocery shop, from nearby Dundalk or Drogheda.

Credit crunch? What credit crunch?

Euros accepted

Finding a parking space is the only problem in Newry at weekends.

Other border areas like Strabane, Londonderry and Enniskillen are also enjoying a border boost.

We have noticed that despite the credit crunch, footfall is up on average each month compared to last year
Cathal Austin
The Quays Shopping Centre

Economics is, of course, about losers as well as winners. And across the border in the Irish Republic, money is being lost, at a time when the economy can ill afford it.

The days of the so-called Celtic Tiger are gone, the economy is officially in recession.

But the Republic's pain is often the north's gain. And just to make things as easy as possible for cross-border shoppers, most stores accept Euros as well as pounds.

At The Quays Shopping Centre in Newry, Sainsbury's say 30% of its trading is in Euros.

Even on the outskirts of Belfast, stores are cashing in on southern visitors.

The manager of Sainsbury's at Holywood, near Belfast, Richard Heaton said: "We have seen increasing numbers at the weekends, but the biggest impact has been on Republic of Ireland Bank Holiday Mondays which have become extremely busy.

"Baby products, confectionery and alcohol have always been popular draws for southern shoppers.

"Sales of all of these product ranges are on the increase at the store."

Favourable rates

Back in Newry, Cathal Austin, centre manager at The Quays Shopping Centre said: "We have noticed that despite the credit crunch, footfall is up on average each month compared to last year.

"We have worked extremely hard to attract quality retailers and well-known high street brands to the centre."

But can the good times last? Probably not.

Shopping sign
Euros - and pounds - are welcome in shops over the border

As the economic downturn continues to affect both sides of the border, disposable incomes are likely to decline.

People who lose their jobs, pay higher taxes or are forced to take pay-cuts are unlikely to be filling their trollies every week at the big stores.

In the meantime, the shops in Newry are doing their best to attract the "Euro tourists".

Even though the average exchange rate is around 80p per Euro, at least one shop is offering 90p.

Not bad when you consider that only a few years ago, the rate was around 67p.

Wherever you go at the moment, it seems the world is crying out for cash.

Cross-border shopping is helping places like Newry cushion the blow of the credit crunch.

It may not last, but retailers are making the most of it.

In the past, shoppers from the Irish Republic may have been reluctant to take their business to Northern Ireland.

Not any more. When times are hard, economics matters more than politics.


SEE ALSO
'NI economy is key' says Paisley
25 Sep 07 |  Northern Ireland
Construction 'driving NI economy'
16 Apr 07 |  Northern Ireland

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