Rates blamed as store closes after 80 years

Rathfriland square. BL49-228PB
Rathfriland square. BL49-228PB

Residents of Rathfriland have expressed bitter disappointment at news that popular hardware store, Stewart and James, is to close its doors this month.

Stewart and James Mica Hardware have served the community of Rathfriland for over 80 years, however proprietor Jim Stoops warned recently that increased rates bills were placing the business under pressure.

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Speaking last month he said: “For the age of the premises I have and the level of business in the town, for my mind the rates we are paying which are in the region of £18,000 per year, is crazy”.

Stewart and James is the latest of several businesses to close in the town over the last few months.

One of the largest shops in Rathfriland, the family owned store had built up a reputation for quality and value and Jim and Barbara Stoops continued this service when they acquired the business in 2006.

The business also had a strong community ethos sponsoring many local sporting and social groups in the area.

Last year Mr Stoops wrote to the Finance Minister in relation to the rates bill he received and was told they were rebalancing the distribution of rates. For their business though, this move only served to make things worse.

Then in a further blow, Mr Stoops was told he was not eligible for the Small Business Rates Relief as the store was deemed too big.

Feeling over the closure was expressed on the Rathfriland Facebook page.

Deborah Elliott Gracey said: “Shockin altogether!” Mary Clarke said: “What a shame. Loved that shop. So handy and if they didn’t have what you needed they went out on their way to get it. You will be sorely missed.”

Jayne Russell said: “Best shop ever. Jim and all the staff knew exactly what I needed for a wee job even if I didn’t know myself! Such a huge loss.”

Jayne Kerr said: “For myself personally it was my job and my family for 28 years. Everything was done to entice people in and get the customers what they needed and to fight the rates but there was no budging. With the economy the way it is it just wasn’t working but the people won’t miss us until it is too late and they have to go further afield for their goods. Rathfriland will soon be a ghost town, a drive-through to other areas.”