Belfast city centre sweet shop closes after almost half a century

Belfast city centre sweet shop closes after almost half a century

A family run sweet shop which has been running in Belfast city centre for almost half a century closed its doors at the weekend.

McKay’s,  in the city’s Queen’s Arcade off Donegal Place, specialises in an extensive range of old-fashioned sweets and is also a specialist tobacconist.

Earlier this month, McKays announced on social media: “We are closing our shop at the end of this month, after 47 years of the McKay family trading in Belfast city centre, thank you to all our customers over the years.”

Brothers Sean and Henry McKay, who married sisters Anne Marie and Deborah Murray, at one time ran four shops in and around Belfast city centre, including the well-known pipe and cigar specialist, Miss Moran in Church lane.

Sean’s daughter Natalie, who has run the Queen’s Arcade shop for the past 22 years, said the loss of footfall in the city centre has hit the business.

“The footfall in the city centre hasn’t come back from Covid. It’s coming back slowly, but not quick enough for us,” she said.

As well as selling the sweet stuff, McKay’s is one of the few established specialist tobacconists in the city centre and boasts the only walk-in humidor in Belfast.

Sean and his younger brother Henry initially worked as butchers in Galloways in the city centre before opening their own confectionery shop in Castle Lane in 1976.

They went on to own a number of premises in the city centre, including in Castle Place, Callendar Street and Miss Moran’s in Church Lane, before eventually moving into Queen’s Arcade.

While she grew up working in the family stores, Natalie eventually took over the running of the business 22 years ago.

She said more than 20 members of her immediate and extended family had worked in the various shops down the years.

While the business had three full-time staff prior to the Primark fire, Natalie has been running the store on her own in recent months.

Wiith a ten-year lease coming up for renewal, she said the prospect of signing a new decade-long lease posed too much of a risk.

“I have a young family, so the last thing I want to do is take a risk and stay for another ten years in the hope that the footfall is going to eventually come back,” she said.

“Covid has changed things for people’s lives. City centres are struggling, and I think when things become quieter in the next few months, a lot of smaller independents will close.

“The footfall just isn’t there. It’s just not the same as it was.

“We’ve worked hard, all of our family are hard workers and we’ve been very lucky to stay in business for as long as we had.

“We’re very lucky for the loyal customers who have stood beside us and we’ll miss them all dreadfully.”

Customers and former staff paid tribute to McKay’s on social media, branding the closure “the end of an era”.