Meet the business owner determined to bring life and colour back to the Cregagh Road by saving the longest-running traditional greengrocers in East Belfast.
Phill Coulter was a successful journalist and reporter for over 12 years but found a new passion for fruit and veg since taking over Bethany Fruit Market earlier this year.
With a long history of serving the people of East Belfast the freshest of ingredients, Phill hopes his continuation of Bethany Fruit Market’s legacy can give the Cregagh Road the attention it deserves.
Speaking to Belfast Live on what led him to a massive career change, Phill said: “I got two stomach ulcers in two years and I thought I was going to die – the stress had been causing it and I was unhappy doing what I was doing.
“I began looking for opportunities and this came up. I became interested in the natural world being outside and working on the likes of ‘Mountain Vets’ and ‘Coast’.
Phill’s decided to leave journalism and pursue something closer to home
(Image: Justin Kernoghan/Belfast Live)
“I didn’t know what to do, I was looking at different houses and really didn’t know what to do but just felt that was I was doing wasn’t sustainable and I was unhappy.”
Ready to move home to the local community he grew up in and loved, he knew East Belfast was calling him back but was unsure of what direction to take with his career.
“I was noticing the area change quite a bit and the Cregagh Road has loads of potential and I saw the fruit shop had been up for sale for about six months.
“Truth be told, I didn’t have the self-confidence to do it and always thought owning a business was for someone else, not me.
“My mate died at Christmas, we were close and I would have seen him every day and when that happened I just thought I’m going for it because if not now, when,” he explained.
Phil expressed how his whole quality of life has been transformed since taking over the shop and that he harbours no regrets in saving an important part of the area’s history.
“I absolutely love it. I’m from the area, my family is from the area – the guy that actually started the fruit shop had two or three shops on that road at one point and my mum worked in one and my auntie worked in the other one,” he said,
“The best thing about this so far for me is being able to spend time on the road amongst the general public and the local community on a daily basis. I wish I had done it years ago because I feel like it’s what I’m meant to be doing and I love it.”
He wants to use his business to benefit the local area and the people of the Cregagh Road
Phill decided on keeping the original store name but rebranding with a new colourful, hand-painted sign as he “didn’t want to change too much” but rather “put a shine on it”.
He also was able to keep on the original staff from the previous owners, including Joanne who had worked there for over 26 years, to keep the familiar faces known and loved at Bethany Fruit Market still serving the community.
He continued: “It’s been great, I’ve had so much support from my friends and family and then the regulars too – there’s a lot of people I would have recognised and not have know, like characters on the road, it’s great just getting to know people.
“People come in every single day and I’m having a conversation with someone who I didn’t know five months ago but I’ve got to know them now and made a relationship with, I love it.
“I’m just trying to put my own wee stamp on it too. I love music and colour so I’m big into my displays and I love spending time putting out my frontage and the feedback has been great.”
His passion for work does not just stem from his newfound love of fruit and veg, it also comes from a devotion to the area and seeing it thrive and get the recognition it deserves.
“We’re a community greengrocers and people were scared that it was going to be sold off and become something else – see the number of people that have approached me and thanked me for keeping it on, it does mean a lot.
“Outside of me owning it, it’s a valuable asset to the community and I want to root myself in it. I’ve been working with other businesses to get things like hanging baskets on the road because there’s none of that.
Phil has thrown himself into the local area since moving home and has been trying to work with the EastSide Partnership and EastSide Arts Festival to bring more investment into the historic street.
“It’s the only main arterial route in the city that doesn’t have Belfast Bikes and I’ve raised these issues with all my local councillors. It hasn’t been invested in around 15 to 20 years and we’re paying the same rates as everyone else so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have that provision.
“They have asked me to form a traders group which I’m in the process of doing that so we can get a bit of funding,” he explained.
Workers Joanne Simpson and Emma Kerr
(Image: Justin Kernoghan/Belfast Live)
“The Cregagh Road is full of independent traders and full of lovely people that do amazing grassroots community work that I want to be a part of and that’s what I value now in my life.”
Looking to the future of his new venture, he has big dreams for his little store and hopes he can continue to serve the people of East Belfast the produce they love.
“One of my aims is to reduce packaging and I want to offer some no packing options outside of the fruit and veg – so some no packing shoots for sugar, salt, porridge etc.
“I want to 100% keep it as a community greengrocers but I want to be able to expand it as well.”