NR Awards are sign that life is getting back to normal: Judith Mercer

NR Awards are sign that life is getting back to normal: Judith Mercer

Judith Mercer, who runs a convenience store and newsagent at Cregagh in east Belfast, says Northern Ireland’s retailers deserve a good night out after being at the frontline of Covid for so long.

She is looking forward to the forthcoming Neighbourhood Retailer Awards after being invited as a guest of Camelot.

“A lot of people don’t realise what retailers have done through Covid, but we were open the whole time, we’ve had all the queues, all the trying to keep people safe and I think the trade have done a great job, I really do, and we deserve a wee night out,” she says.

“It’s been three years since the last one. We love to go and we’re being invited this year by Camelot – it will be lovely to be with them and see all the winners,” she says.

“It’s lovely to see all the retailers getting together and those who are up for prizes. It’s a really, really good night and I think everybody enjoys it. We’ve all been working really hard and running our businesses since lockdown and it will be nice to get a few glad-rags on and get the dancing shoes on.

“We’ve been in for the Awards a couple of times ourselves, such as Best Newcomer when we redid the Spar. It’s a good night for people and especially the guys who win – they bring along their staff and everybody has a great night out.

“We don’t get an awful lot of fun these days, but the compere is always fantastic and the awards ceremony is brilliant – it’s like the Oscars for our trade.

“I enjoy going to it to catch up with a few people that you don’t see year from year. It will be lovely to be there with Camelot because I’ve worked very closely with them – they’re a great bunch of guys and they always make me feel very welcome.”

Judith sits on the Retailer Forum set up by Camelot to hear views from its retailers, with representatives both from the multiples and the independent retail sector across the UK.

“A lot of the time you don’t get to see the other side of the coin but it has opened up for me just how much work Camelot actually put into operating the lottery,” she says.

“It just works automatically for us and it does drive sales for us and that’s why I believe they are a great company to work with.

“Looking on the other side of the aisle, it has made me just a bit more impressed with how much work they actually do. Everybody who works for Camelot is very committed to the National Lottery brand.”

Looking back on her own personal experience of the crisis, she says every week brought a different challenge.

“We were trying to juggle two queues, a Post Office queue and a shop queue – at the best of times that’s hard to do but at the time of a pandemic, it’s even worse.

“But my staff were great – they were just ‘Right, what’s happening today, what’s different, what’s new’ and we traded the whole way through. We shut a little earlier, we had a few issues with the Post Office a few times when we had to reduce hours because we only had one member of staff. But it was only a few times and we’ve been able to stay open the whole time.

“We got a lot of new customers that had never used us before and then realised it was a nice wee shop.

“It never ceases to amaze me how caring people are. One member of staff recently received a beautiful card and a bouquet of flowers because of their kindness to somebody.

“An older man fell on the other side of the car park and the staff went out to him. He came back in the other day to say he had no broken bones, he was ok and here’s a wee card with some money in it. It’s at times like that that you realise people would be lost without us.

“Sometimes the smaller independent shops, we’re like a big brother, we can put our arms round our customers and look after them. Our customers are like our extended family.”

Judith says the forthcoming awards feel like a sign that things are getting back to normal.

“That’s the good thing about the awards, once they’re over we all feel like the awards are back and we can start to think about Christmas and we can do all the other things that I think were put on hold for such a long time,” she says.

The names of the Neighbourhood Retailer Awards finalists will be announced in early September.