John Wood visited Belfast to find out more about the unique problems and challenges faced by Northern Ireland's independents
Independent retailers on the mainland would identify with the day-to-day concerns of their counterparts in Northern Ireland, including security, even though some retailers face an extra challenge because of the province's problems.
Andrew Davidson, who runs the XL Stop & Shop store in Lower Newtonards, admits the Troubles are a concern but feels their effect has been greatly exaggerated. "Any trouble is caused by a very small group of people who are not from our local community," he says.
At the Botanic Gardens Post Office and store in the centre of the city, Brian Robinson says sectarianism is not a problem. In 12 years running the store he has just encountered two attempted robberies.
The first in November 2001, by two men with knives, was deadly serious. "It is an awful experience, not so much at the time but it hits you maybe a week later," he says. Nine months on, however, he is able to smile as he recollects the inept second attempt in May last year, where a man with a hammer struck the till, jamming it shut and preventing him from taking any money.
But The Grocer found some retailers were less willing to talk about their concerns. At one cash and carry close to a flashpoint during the Troubles, not a single retailer was willing to give his name or have his picture taken for fear it might attract unwelcome visitors looking for money.
Problems with recruiting staff are a concern of Stephen Malcolm at Fort Service Station in North Belfast.
He is forced to work seven days a week, sometimes from 6am right through to 11pm, because he just cannot find enough experienced staff.
He says he advertised for three months for someone over 21 with previous experience, and although he received 50 replies, they were all from candidates under 18 with no experience and no car, which is vital to get to and from the store.
In the city centre, Brian Robinson has no such problems.
All his full-time staff have been with him for at least five years and, as he is next to the University of Belfast, he reckons he can fill any part-time vacancy with a student within 10 minutes of putting up a poster.
Pressure from the major groups is familiar to all retailers in Northern Ireland.
In a province with a population of 1.5 million people, Tesco, Sainsbury, Safeway, Marks and Spencer, Aldi, and the Co-op are all present, and the symbol groups Spar, Mace and Costcutter all have impressive stores, too.
Andrew Davidson, who gets same-day deliveries from the nearby Holmes Cash & Carry in Newtonards, says smaller independent retailers have to offer a convenience range for local needs, because there is so much other provision for the customers' main shop.
Having lived in England, he says the main difference with retailing in Northern Ireland is the licensing laws. Liquor licences are strictly limited, with no new licences allowed, and the existing ones are often auctioned, fetching £60-80,000, with the result that very few independent retailers stores are licensed.