Belfast business owner blames Primark fire for slump as he seeks to relocate
The owners of a pizza restaurant on Belfast's Castle Street have said they are looking for new premises and cutting opening hours in response to a continued slump in trade following the Primark fire last year.
Another trader on the street next to Primark's burnt-out building accused the retailer and city council of not doing enough to support businesses.
While work takes place to secure and restore Bank Buildings after the August fire, the retailer has opened another store on the same street.
It plans to open a second at Donegall Place in April.
Michael Connor, of Conway Opticians on Castle Street, called on Primark to make another contribution to traders affected by a cordon put in place after the blaze. Last year the firm made a donation of £500,000.
James Neilly said he would be reducing opening hours at Pizza Boutique by around 30%, with the store set to close on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays.
He said trade was "not a scratch on what it was" following the fire.
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"We've tracked sales compared to labour midweek. We were just going to cut to Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, but we were worried we'd lose half our team," Mr Neilly explained.
"We used to open up Monday and Tuesday, and it's a direct result of the fire that we're not opening any more.
"We're currently looking for a new location. There are a lot of expensive properties out there.
"Brexit is around the corner, wages are up, costs are rising and this time around we need to get it right."
Michael Connor, of Conway Opticians, said businesses deserved more support.
"I think there should be another donation from Primark," he added. "The trouble the last time was that the council was given responsibility for giving it out and decided to give it to 90 businesses.
"But, for me, that meant £5,000 would cover wages for my six staff, but the same amount was also going to a one-man band barber. Perhaps it should have been distributed on rateable value or something."
However, Primark and Belfast City Council said they had already made direct contributions to traders.
Primark added: "We are committed to the business and wider community in Belfast and made a £500,000 donation to Belfast City Council's City Recovery Investment Programme.
"This fund has been allocated by the council to local businesses impacted by the fire."
The city council said it had agreed a total package of £1.69m for a wide-ranging programme of activities and improvements to increase footfall.
A spokesman for the Department of Finance added: "Properties within the Bank Buildings cordon had their rate liability reduced to zero.
"When the cordon was reduced in size, for those properties that could then be reoccupied, rate liability was restored.
"Properties remaining within the reduced cordon area continue to have zero-rate liability.
"Land and Property Services wrote to 1,349 ratepayers in the vicinity of the fire in early December advising of the rates support measures available."