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Gap opens new Belfast city centre store in 'positive' sign for retail in Northern Ireland

By John Mulgrew

Published 23/07/2015

Shirt dress, Gap £39.95
Shirt dress, Gap £39.95

It's the latest addition to Belfast's resurgent high street fashion offering.

US clothing giant Gap will launch its new flagship outlet in the heart of the city today in another "positive sign" for retail in Northern Ireland.

Gap opens the premises on Donegall Place after moving from its former home in nearby CastleCourt shopping centre.

That's despite the clothing retailer revealing last month it is to close 175 stores across the United States.

A pioneer of affordable casual wear, Gap was established as a brand in 1969.

Some of the world's most famous celebrities started off their careers by modelling for the chain.

They include Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Alba.

And pop superstar Madonna starred in an advertisement for the brand in 2003.

The store is the first of a series of new businesses that will be opening up in Donegall Place, right in the heart of Belfast city centre.

It's an area that has been hit by several major retailers pulling out in the last couple of years, with many premises being left lying empty as a result.

With the help of a handful of others - including Northern Ireland's first stand-alone Skechers store, DW Sports and the recently extended Zara - the area is being given a new lease of life.

Gap's arrival has been branded a "positive step" for the city centre by Colin Mathewson, senior director of retail at commercial property firm CBRE.

"Generally, this is fundamentally a broad improvement in market conditions, and it shows an increase in the demand for retailers, based on a boost in consumer demand," he explained.

"Therefore, it's the market forces which are improving the conditions on the high street, and that reflection is more apparent in Belfast, where we are seeing the start of the process - it should then ripple out across Northern Ireland.

"It's a positive sign for Belfast and the rest of the province.

"This will hopefully then filter through".

Spanish-owned Zara unveiled its new bigger store, just across the street, earlier this year, helping to meet demand for a brand of fast fashion much beloved of the Duchess of Cambridge and pop diva Gwen Stefani, among others.

And lifestyle footwear retailer Skechers is to take over the site of the former Lipsy store on Donegall Place as its new flagship business here.

It all comes as the latest figures show income returns from commercial property in Northern Ireland are among the highest in the UK.

Commercial property here posted a total return of 10.9% year-on-year in the 2014 period.

But it's not all good news on the retail side.

Last month fashion brand East, which operated a store just metres from the new Gap outlet, became the latest casualty of the high street with the closure of a number of its shops.

A pre-pack administration deal did secure more than 550 jobs and 82 stores and concessions throughout the UK and Ireland.

But the Belfast store was one of 19 which were not included in the rescue.

Belfast Telegraph

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