A popular Co Fermanagh businessman has stressed the importance of spending money from the High Street Voucher scheme with local businesses. Gary Walker from Walker Clothing Co in Irvinestown said it was unfair that small clothing shops such as his were unable to open for many months, while larger chains attached to supermarkets were able to continue to sell clothes. Applications for the High Street Voucher Scheme opened on Monday, with every adult in Northern Ireland eligible for the pre-paid card, which can be used in a variety of high street venues, including retail and hospitality.
Now that his and other businesses have been able to open their doors, Gary says it's more important than ever to support local when we can. "With the amount of times we were open and closed, it's a wee incentive for people to get off their screens and maybe get a few more back in through the door," Gary told MyFermanagh. "Footfall wouldn't be great at the minute, but being a smaller retailer I don't need massive numbers through the door.
"But obviously this will encourage a lot more people to come in. "Plenty of people have been asking if I am taking the vouchers and I am absolutely. "Hopefully with GBP100 in their wallets, it will go a long way towards a suit or whatever it may be.
"We do quite a lot of wedding parties as well so it could be like a GBP100 deposit on something like that." Gary also operates a flooring shop as part of the same premises in the town, and said it was difficult to fathom why larger chain stores were able to operate and sell clothing and home supplies when independent shops were not. "The fact that we were closed for four months of the year and unfortunately some big clothes departments in big chains were sitting wide open, it felt very unfair on us smaller retailers," Gary added.
"They were allowed to sell their summer stock for four months and we were sitting closed. Gary says the business community and local shoppers in Irvinestown had been very supportive in recent times. "We have a small customer base but a very loyal one.
All being well they will come and spend it here. "Irvinestown a very good wee compact shopping town. Everybody would be quite supportive of one another.
"It's a lot of small family businesses, and I do think people will feel a bit safer in a smaller town with smaller shops."