When is a shop not a shop?

  • 7 June 2013
Ladies pass shop in Belcoo

Derelict properties in Northern Ireland have been made to look like old-fashioned stores. What's the idea with fake shops?

One shop in Belcoo, outside Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, looks like the perfect butcher's. You can almost smell the meat in the window - rashers of succulent bacon, plump bangers, juicy steaks, hams fit for a Tudor banquet.

But clues tell you it's not quite as it should be. There's no name on the frontage. The door of the shop appears ajar but there's no glimpse of a tail-wagging terrier, head cocked for a stray piece of luncheon meat.

The shop has become something of a cause celebre.

For it turns out, it's not real. It's a fake shop. Moreover there are other fake shops in the area, such as a "thriving office supply shop", according to Reuters.

County Fermanagh's district council sanctioned the fake retail units as part of a £1m makeover before it hosts the G8 summit. The event takes place on 17 and 18 June at the Lough Erne golf resort near Enniskillen.

The chief executive of Fermanagh District Council has defended the optical illusion.

"It was aimed at undeveloped sites at the entrance to the town and then right throughout the county in terms of the other towns and villages, looking at those vacant properties and really just trying to make them look better and more aesthetically pleasing," says Brendan Hegarty.

The American media can't get enough of this quirky foreign tale. But fake shops turn out to be an American idea. According to the Associated Press, the technique was pioneered by New York Mayor Ed Koch in the 1980s.

Back in Fermanagh opinions are divided. Some locals feel the fake shops raise the tone. Others mutter about what they will look like in six months when the G8 guests are long gone. Fake sausage anyone?

Northern Ireland is leading the way here. Fake shops cropped up in Belfast last year in a bid to improve appearances on the route to the Stormont parliament. Expect others to follow suit as death-of-high-street-angst grows.

And beware. Next time an enticing-looking cake shop hoves into view, don't salivate too much. The door that looks welcomingly open may actually be a sticker cleverly applied to a fake store front.

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