Tills at Belfast Primark shop ring in £5m boost to city centre
Belfast is poised for a £5m Christmas cash injection now that Primark has reopened in the city centre, a leading economist has said.
Festive shoppers have welcomed its new smaller store with open arms.
The retailer said more than 15,000 people queued up to get into the Castle Street premises in its first three days of trading.
But industry experts have told the Belfast Telegraph that at least 30,000 customers are likely to have visited the store from Saturday to Monday - with that figure expected to hit 50,000 by the end of the week.
Primark's return to the city centre at Commonwealth House last Saturday brought an end to a three-month hiatus following a devastating fire at its flagship store in Bank Buildings.
The blaze, which raged for three days, subsequently forced nearby shops to close, while other businesses struggled with a catastrophic drop in footfall.
Now Primark's new four-floor store, which covers 26,700 sq ft, has been welcomed by Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director Aodhan Connolly.
"The opening of the new Primark store seems to have gone down very successfully and was a huge hit with our shoppers," Mr Connolly said.
"This is a really good omen with less than 15 shopping days to Christmas. We hope this translates into sales, not only for Primark but for the traders in the area. And while everything is being done by the shops in the city centre, it is now over to the shoppers."
Fans of the store travelled from all over Northern Ireland and queued from 4.45am to visit the new outlet, situated just around the corner from its former site at the 118-year-old Bank Buildings.
Primark said: "While we're not in a position to disclose the total number of customers who have visited the Castle Street store, during the course of the past three days approximately 15,000 customers queued to enter the store at various stages."
Industry insiders have said the bargain retailer will be "extremely pleased" with its trading performance so far.
Economist John Simpson said he believes the store is likely to generate £2.5m in turnover each week in the immediate future.
"Primark's reopening will be worth around £5m in terms of household expenditure to the city centre economy in the run-up to Christmas," he said.
"Things are looking up but it's a long way short of being a buzzing city centre. Although it has improved, the main business in Belfast is now taking place in the outskirts in places like in Newtownabbey and Forestside."
A new temporary walkway reconnecting Royal Avenue to Donegall Place opened on December 3 and has also proved to be a timely boost for the city centre retail sector, with Belfast One BID (Belfast Improvement District) confirming that it has attracted one fifth more people into the area.
"Footfall in Belfast city centre is up 21.5% since the new walkway opened," managing director Clare Maguire said.
Belfast City Council said that Saturday was the busiest day last week, with 200,974 visitors recorded across the city centre, according to their data.
It is now hoped that the new Primark store, which can be accessed from the west side of the city centre, coupled with the newly-built walkway, will help restore footfall during the festive period and beyond.
Irish department store chain Guineys also opened for the first time last week, offering a timely fillip to the city centre ahead of Christmas.
McDonald's, Argento, Skechers and Spar all resumed trading earlier in the week.
Zara, Tesco Metro and British Heart Foundation remain closed however.
They are unlikely to reopen until at least Easter.
Next spring, Primark is planning to open a second store in Belfast city centre at Donegall Place, where the retailer's first Belfast store opened in 1975.