Traders at the city's historic Smithfield Market are in danger of going out of business if steps aren't taken to entice shoppers back, the Andersonstown News was told this week.
And the continuing slump in business at the century-old site claimed another victim this week when the well-known radical bookshop Just Books of Winetavern Street announced that it's to close on Saturday - the end of another sad chapter in the troubled recent history of Smithfield Market.
"Refurbishment of the Market was provided from the ratepayers' pocket," Smithfield Traders spokeswoman Theresa Cullen said, "but money should have been spent on its promotion and the enticement of new blood by way of more attractive and reasonable rents in order to prevent the empty shell from becoming a permanent ghost town."
The traders point the finger at "apathetic City Hall" bureaucrats who, they claim, haven't lifted a finger to arrest the decline of Smithfield, which is being sucked dry by the mammoth CastleCourt shopping centre, situated just yards away. "This attitude is reflected in the absence of business coming into the marketplace," said Mrs Cullen, "which in turn sees traders endure the emotional and financial crisis of watching long-established family businesses close down."
Any moves now by the council on rent and rates would come too late for Just Books, which is bowing out after 16 years in Smithfield with a cut-price clear-out on Friday and Saturday.
Set up by the Belfast Anarchist Collective in 1978, the bookshop aimed to provide information not readily available elsewhere and to spread new ideas. To make it as accessible as possible, a Smithfield site was chosen, placing it squarely between the Falls and Shankill Roads. Initially, the bookshop was part of a centre which incorporated initiatives such as Le Hideout café, the Print Workshop, Belfast Independent Video and the Belfast Unemployed Group.
Several publications were produced on the premises, such as Outta Control, Gaining Ground, Ainrail and, more recently, Women's News.
The bookshop rapidly became a popular focal point for a wide range of disparate groups - students, radicals and even the odd established politician browsed among the large selection of books and pamphlets on a bewilderingly wide range of subjects. But the same reasons which now threaten the other Smithfield traders finally took their toll on Just Books.
"Many different factors have contributed to the decision to close Just Books," a spokesperson said. "Since the development of CastleCourt in 1986, traditional access to Winetavern Street was cut off. This brought an end to the atmosphere and character associated with the Smithfield area for so long. Coupled with the recession, increased book prices and competition from bigger outlets like Waterstones, Easons and Dillons, trade continued to fall off. Eventually this led to the position where no other option was left to us but to close down. But our closure should not just be seen as a sad occasion. 16 years of providing an invaluable service to the community and being a focus for social change and revolutionary ideas is something to celebrate."