I can no longer count on the fingers (and thumbs) of one hand the number of outlets in Victoria Square that have switched off their lights and locked their doors permanently. Every week, there seem to be more stories of well-known and respected brands and outlets facing financial trouble. Not to mention the continual shrinkage of Northern Ireland's remaining manufacturing industry.
Perhaps the biggest shock of the last week was the news that five of Northern Ireland's fourteen Pizza Hut franchises were closed with immediate effect on Friday morning: Coleraine, Dungannon as well as Belfast's Dublin Road, Connswater and Yorkgate outlets.
The Dublin Road branch has been there since my student days, outlasting the Chicago Pizza Pie Factory around the corner, and serving as a venue for QUB Radio Club (no, not the Queens Radio station ... way before that) Christmas Dinners that were rarely ever held in December! And I remember a run-in with the Yorkgate branch for its miserly Chicken Supreme which had a really meagre sprinkling of chicken bits spread thinly across the pizza. They'd apparently been told off for being too generous with the toppings.
While the administrator is confident that the four branches in Ballymena, Carrickfergus, Glengormley and Lisburn can stay open, the remaining five branches are trading with a cloud over their heads while more sums are done. Over the years, I've eaten in all five!
- The branch at Carryduff memorably allowed one of our Youth Fellowship who didn't like pizza to go outside to the KFC and bring back a gourmet chicken meal to eat alongside the rest of us may not survive. Now that is customer service.
- The Odyssey was more prone to long queues - managing to delay my pizza longer than the time it took my wife to eat hers one night.
- Bangor was good.
- Castlecourt's Pizza Hut Express serves up tasty lunchtime-sized snacks (even tried the salad side order once ... just once).
- And the Victoria Square branch has barely had time for the purple paint to dry.
But sitting in the Connswater car park on Saturday lunchtime, it was still shocking to see the East Belfast branch - that had hosted memorable family lunches - closed for ever. Now just a perch for breathless sea gulls.