Tesco Extra opens to mixed opinions

June 10, 2013

By Christine Keighery

Newry’s Tesco store finally opened its doors to the public last Thursday morning at 8am, welcoming more than 30 eager shoppers who had arrived early to check out the city’s sprawling new superstore.

The 63,000 square feet store, just outside the city centre, is the third largest Tesco in Northern Ireland and boasts a vast array of shopping departments all under one roof including the F&F clothes range, a mobile phone shop, an opticians and an electronics department, in addition to grocery, bakery, beers, wines and spirits and health and beauty departments.

The Examiner was there to gauge the opinion of local shoppers and first impressions certainly suggested that Newry’s newest superstore was proving a massive hit with the early morning crowd, with most shoppers telling us they “loved” the bright and airy premises, and others declaring it a beautiful and spacious store which they would definitely shop in again.  The free parking in the 600 space car park also appealed to many shoppers who commended Tesco on providing such a service for its customers.

Despite the high profile grand opening and the initial positivity from happy customers, not everyone  in the city shares this enthusiasm. Local independent traders have been expressing their concern about the impact the new store will have on city centre trade for some time now and the grand opening and popularity of the new store did nothing to allay those fears.

Jack Murphy, proprietor of stalwart local jewellers, Murphy’s on Hill Street and member of the Newry City Centre Management Committee, has been vigorous in his condemnation of the new store and feels the development, which was six years in the pipeline, was a missed opportunity.

Mr Murphy believes if Tesco had chosen to locate in the centre of Newry, city retailers would have fully backed the move as shoppers would have been able to “mingle around the town.”

His is a view shared by many Hill Street and city centre traders, including Graeme Finegan, owner of the Grounded coffee shops in Monaghan Street and Slieve Gullion. Despite assurances from Tesco Extra’s Manager, Stephen Magill, that the new store will increase footfall in the city centre, Mr Finegan remains dubious whether Tesco customers will make the extra effort to come into the centre and visit some of the independent retailers.  He admits, however, that local businesses will have to face up to the challenge.

Tesco Manager, Mr Magill, insists that the Newry location was chosen for the new Tesco Extra for a number of reasons including its proximity to the city centre.  His expectation is that the new store will encourage cross border shoppers to come back into Newry once again so that the city centre can become a destination for southern shoppers who will not only shop in Tesco, but will remain in the area and visit city centre cafes, restaurants and retailers, providing an opportunity for all businesses to showcase what Newry has to offer.

He also highlighted the substantial jobs boost for the area, with 330 people employed in the new store and the potential for many more opportunities in time.  According to Mr Magill, the benefits of local employment, wages being spent locally and increased visitors to the city centre will mean a “better economic environment for all. That is small businesses and big businesses.”

As the debate continues, it would seem only time will tell if the biggest addition to Newry’s shopping experience in the last few years will benefit the ailing city centre and be the boost the local economy so desperately needs.