Forestside is in fashion as H&M ponders move into closure-hit centre
Fashion retailer H&M is understood to be increasing its presence in Northern Ireland with a new branch in Belfast.
It's thought the Swedish company is moving into Forestside Shopping Centre, partly filling the gap left by the recent departure of a number of big high street names.
H & M – Hennes and Mauritz – is expected to take up tenancy in the mall in the south of the city following the summer's closure of River Island plus the Arcadia group's Dorothy Perkins, Wallis and Evans.
The retailer was yesterday unavailable for comment on the issue.
But sources said it was confident the retailer, known for what is described as "fast-fashion", will soon be among the Forestside staples.
It is hoped the introduction of the international brand will help increase the footfall at the centre lost when HMV dramatically shut up shop as part of a UK-wide winddown announced in February this year.
A retail commentator has said if the speculation was true, it would augur very well for the future security of the centre.
Donald McFetridge, from the Ulster Business School at the University of Ulster, said since the days of Supermac: "Forestside has always been widely regarded as one of the best shopping locations in, not only Belfast, but Northern Ireland."
"With Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury's as two of its most important anchor tenants, the centre is always going to have a tremendous pull and cachet and the presence of these two major retail clients guarantees that there would be more than enough footfall to generate great interest from other retailers in the non-food sector."
Commenting that the demise of the three Arcadia outlets "did cast a shadow over the future of the centre, but only temporarily", Mr McFetridge said the arrival of H&M "augurs well for the Forestside".
"It does not surprise me in the slightest that a retailer like H&M could be actively seeking to take up residence at the centre," he said.
"In my opinion, the arrival of an H&M outlet would be good not only for that company but also good for Forestside and its shoppers.
"It is vitally important for centre management to achieve the correct balance and blend of food and non-food retailers in order to cement the future of any shopping centre and, if rumours are true, I believe that the centre will become even more popular with consumers than it already is."
Centre manager Lee Cutler was also unable to confirm the news of H&M's arrival, nor was a spokesman for centre agents BTW Shiells.
However, the news follows the recent announcement of Vision Express's move into the mall, filling the space left by Game, plus the expansion of Next's existing premises.
Commenting that Next was undergoing a four-fold upgrade to its floor coverage, the spokesman said the retailer was moving into the space left by River Island as well as building upwards into a mezzanine to be accessed internally, from within the store itself.
H&M, which clothes women, men and children, already has around seven shops in Northern Ireland and is present in over 40 countries worldwide, employing close to 95,000 people worldwide.