SHEILA McQuaid was absolutely right recently when she commented on our smashing town centre.
There are dreadful statistics claiming that up to 20% of shop units in Northern Ireland are vacant. We are fortunate in Banbridge that we have actually very few vacant units. The majority of the vacant units which we do have represent collateral damage from the collapse of businesses headquartered elsewhere.
Unfortunately many local people have lost jobs as a result. They were let down by strangers.
The fact that we are in such a fortunate position is not down to chance. Most of our core businesses have been trading for many years. They are frequently family owned and have passed down generations.
The people with the greatest stake and the greatest interest in the businesses are the people who open them up in the mornings and who close up shop in the evenings. They are the people that work on the administration at nights and weekends.
Our businesses have been tested over many cycles of economic challenge. They have traded through bombs and fortress-like security conditions.
Our traders have dug in and stuck at it. They haven’t over expanded or tried to take on the world. Our traders have paid attention and minded their own businesses. They are very good at what they do because they haven’t been distracted.
It seems to me that healthy degrees of modesty and stickability have helped Banbridge to buck the trend of town centre decline.
Not so long ago when the world was going crazy our traders were frequently criticised for being too inward looking or too narrow minded.
The happy truth is that our traders knew exactly what they were doing. We probably owe our traders an apology. Certainly we owe our traders thanks and support.
Hopefully Christmas will be as prosperous for them as we all can make it.