Not all retailers will have a good Friday tomorrow.
It’s a landmark date in Northern Ireland’s ongoing battle against the pandemic, with so-called ‘non-essential’ shops finally reopening after being mothballed for four months.
Sadly, however, some will be keeping the shutters down for good, having failed to survive the economic ravages of Covid-19.
Among the best known of these are retro-inspired clothing and homeware store Cath Kidston, popular chocolatier Thorntons and fashion retailer Topshop, all of whom have joined the likes of Mothercare, Evans, Laura Ashley and Carphone Warehouse in giving up their high street presence.
A number of lesser-known, but equally important, independent outlets have gone the same way, either into permanent closure on online only.
Perhaps the biggest blow to Belfast city centre’s retail offering is the loss of Debenhams, which has been CastleCourt’s anchor tenant since it first opened three decades ago.
Throughout lockdown, there have been huge signs on the department store’s frontage, informing passers-by that ‘everything must go’ and its last ever sale will soon be under way when the shutters open tomorrow.
Yes, everything must go, including the loyal customers who must now find somewhere else to browse and purchase clothing, make up, perfume and homeware.
It’s also goodbye forever to the gargantuan Topshop, a landmark on the corner of Victoria Square since it opened in 2008 to serve young clothes shoppers and trend-setters with the latest styles.
Likewise to the huge clothing and accessory giant H&M that sits opposite it. These are two more of the financial fatalities of Covid.
Another, also located in the Corn Market area, is Argos, which also shut up shop for good. Thanks to its pairing with supermarket Sainsbury’s, however, the catalogue retailer hasn’t disappeared altogether.
Traders who have successfully weathered the economic storm will be fervently hoping the country’s shattered economy will bounce back as shoppers return in their droves in the coming weeks, while outdoor diners are expected to pack back into restaurants and pubs as restrictions ease.
Some retail consultants have predicted that the lengthy third lockdown — which started on Boxing Day last year — will contribute to a spending frenzy due to pent-up demand, and the fact that some workers will no doubt be returning to offices.
Economists have also been upgrading forecasts for growth in 2021 after last year saw the biggest contraction in 300 years.
Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, which tracks activity on high streets, shopping centres and retail parks, said all the retailers she’d talked to were “really, really pleased with trading” in the first week of reopening in England. Local retailers will be hoping that the pattern is replicated here, especially over the bank holiday weekend.
Northern Ireland’s high street ‘task force’ was recently set up to explore ways to revitalise towns and cities.
Let’s hope their game plan is up and running.