NEWS that a number of new businesses are planning to set up shop in Omagh town centre has been heralded as a "positive development at a very difficult time."
In the coming months, local shoppers will experience the opening an artisan delicatessen, 'Forage and Folk' at High Street, and Australian-inspired eatery, 'The Little Sparrow' on Bridge Street.
In addition, along with a new premises for a popular 'Dollybird Interiors' at Old Market Place, an exciting new addition 'Fit to Snack', at Scarffe's Entry, called 'Ollie's Coffee Shop', is also set to open its doors.
The announcements come at a time when local retail, restaurants and cafes are all but locked down amid strict restrictions - however, West Tyrone MLA., Tom Buchanan, said the new developments "augur well" for the future of the town centre.
Taking up residence at Bridge Street at the former 'Old MacDonalds' premises, 'The Little Sparrow' is the brainchild of Omagh man, Barry Woods. Its menu will focus on fresh, locally sourced produce, with a vision of "bringing a little bit of Australia to Omagh."
A former construction worker, Barry said he was inspired to enter the hospitality industry after spending time in Australia, having experienced the rich cuisine of the country first-hand.
"Hospitality has always been something that I have procrastinated over throughout the years, and with a lot of encouragement and support from my fiancée, I decided it was time to take the leap and try something new," he said.
"Location played a huge factor in my business plan and I had considered other towns in Tyrone but Omagh always had my heart. After all, there is no place like home. I saw the premises on Bridge Street, and I knew it was perfect for my vision. It is in the heart of the town, and I could not have asked for a better location.
"The Little Sparrow aims to open in early Spring, and myself and my amazing team cannot wait to welcome you all. It is our mission to provide an inviting space for our community with exciting interior and a welcoming atmosphere that will cater for our ever-changing society.
"New businesses opening in Omagh has provided a sense of optimism in the town. These are tough times but they will not last forever. Spring is only around the corner and with this brings hope, and prosperity. There are brighter days ahead, days where we will be able to meet with friends for a good old catch up over a coffee. Omagh is most definitely open for business.
"I would like to take this opportunity to thank our local community and the businesses of the town for their overwhelming support in our new venture. We wish all those new businesses who have taken the leap in these challenging times the absolute best."
Opening in May is 'Forage and Folk', an artisan delicatessen, focusing on premium quality and innovative flavours, at High Street, Omagh.
From fresh baked breads and sourdough, to mouth-watering charcuterie, cheeses, freshly prepared salads, in-house preserves and ready-to-eat meals, the new establishment will focus on premium quality and innovative flavours.
A spokesperson from Forage and Folk said: "Opening this spring in the centre of Omagh, we're a classic, artisan delicatessen offering customers the opportunity to enjoy local, restaurant-quality produce and glorious international flavours at home.
"Championing local farmers and growers, we'll combine the very finest local produce with our foodie expertise to deliver a unique taste experience you can take home and enjoy at your leisure.
"We are very adamant that everything is going to be sourced locally, from all over Ireland, North and South, and everything will be artisan, from locally produced meats and sourdoughs, to hummous made in Belfast, to locally produced chocolate and coffee, and more. We are very excited!
"We want to support all the local artisan producers, and I think everyone needs to support each other at the difficult time.
"We need to get the centre of the town back up and running, it's soul destroying to see all the shops that have closed. It's very, very sad, and this cannot become the norm."
Meanwhile, Dollybird Interiors have revealed that they are planning to move to a new premises at Old Market Place.
The business, which specialises in all areas of design from inception right through to completion, is currently situated at High Street.
A spokesperson from Dollybird Interiors said: "At long last, we can finally reveal we are moving! There's been a lot of speculation as to whether we were closing or not, lol. So to answer you all, we are not. An exciting (and busy) few months ahead for us. We can't wait to welcome you all!"
Ulster Unionist councillor, Chris Smyth, said he hopes the arrival and development of businesses in Omagh will maintain and enhance the "vibrancy" of the town centre.
"With news that a number of businesses closing in town, it's particularly heartening to see other businesses that are expanding and moving in. I hope that this will maintain and enhance the vibrancy of our town centre, and provide much needed employment for the people of the district during this very difficult time.
"It's important that people have a reason to go into town, and Omagh must maintain its vibrancy, and avoid that 'empty street look', because this can have a knock on effect."
West Tyrone MLA, Tom Buchanan, also welcomed the news.
"It's great news to hear that we have businesses who are looking to come and set up within Omagh, especially in the times we find ourselves in.
"It is very reassuring that we have businesses who are eager and looking forward to setting up in Omagh, and others looking to expand. It augers well for Omagh at a time when things are extremely difficult. I welcome this, it is a very positive development, and I wish them well.
"In these times, I think that the NI Executive needs to be now looking at positive ways for businesses to get open up after this further lockdown, in a Covid-compliant way that will enable them to reopen and stay open."