New Primark store to give Belfast retail boost
Northern Ireland only region in UK to show an increase in number of shoppers
The new Primark store on Castle Street, Belfast, replaces the one burned down in August. Photograph: PA
Primark’s new store in Belfast is expected to deliver a major retail boost for the city in the run-up to Christmas as latest retail figures show Northern Ireland was the only region across the United Kingdom to show an increase in the number of people out shopping last month.
Shopper footfall in the North jumped by 2.7 per cent in November while in contrast it fell by an average 3.2 per cent across the UK, according to the latest Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC)/Springboard monitor.
The upbeat figures suggest the North’s retail sector is continuing to enjoy the benefits of a steady stream of Southern shoppers, particularly in Border towns and cities, who are happy to travel to take advantage of the weak pound.
The latest retail statistics show that although Northern Ireland’s high streets were the most popular destination for shoppers, attracting 4.1 per cent more shoppers during November, shopping centres proved to have less appeal with total footfall falling back by 1.3 per cent last month.
Black Friday offers
Part of this, according to the NIRC/Springboard monitor, may have been due to Black Friday offers which encourage more online shopping during the period and makes shoppers less inclined to visit bricks and mortar stores when the retailer has a strong online presence.
Overall, however Aodhán Connolly, director of the NIRC, said although the biggest retail hub in Belfast and the North had continued to suffer the fallout from the Primark fire last month the latest figures were upbeat.
“This is definitely a more positive set of results for the retail industry with good news figures on footfall with not only sustained growth, especially on our high streets, but for the second consecutive month we are the only part of the UK that has had any increase,” he said.
He expects that the new Primark store, which opened at the weekend in Belfast, will deliver “a huge footfall” and is hopeful that it will also “bring new life to what is being called the cordon quarter” in the city.
Mr Connolly said: “This store opening is a testament to the commitment of Primark to Belfast and could not come soon enough. With less than 20 shopping days left until Christmas we really need to see shoppers on our streets.”
The 2,480sq m (26,700sq ft), four-floor store on Castle Street, beside the cordoned off Bank Buildings store which was devastated by fire at the end of August, welcomed its first customers on Saturday morning.
The first bargain hunters in the queue, who were on their annual “pilgrimage” from Craigavon to Belfast for their “big Christmas shop”, arrived at 7am ahead of the store opening at 9am.
Jeannette Robb said: “I missed Primark. It’s good value and a nice store.”
Deborah Whiteside from north Belfast said she had missed Primark since it last traded in August.
“Town hasn’t been the same,” she said.
“It has been dead but hopefully it picks up now.”
The cordon around the shell of the Bank Buildings has meant the heart of the shopping district had been cut off in four areas but a new walkway built from shipping containers has at least helped let people flow between two of the areas, while the council and other business organisations have been reimaging the affected streets to try to generate footfall.
Belfast Lord Mayor Deirdre Hargey said it was a boost to the city centre to get the new Primark store opened before Christmas.
“We are delighted to see this day not just for the company, but for the city, the local businesses in Castle Street and the staff who are back into work after the fire,” she said. “It’s great.”
Elsewhere in the city centre, the first Guineys store in Belfast opened at the site of the former British Home Stores building off Cornmarket.