Editor's Viewpoint: We should not take retailers for granted
A pall of uncertainty still hangs over the fire ravaged Primark store in central Belfast. While the shell of the building is still standing there is a danger that the entire structure - apart from the new extension which was due to open shortly - could crumble.
The inability of fire crews and other experts to enter the building until their safety can be guaranteed is hampering efforts to determine how the fire which swept through all five storeys of the listed building began.
There was some relief for the 360 staff last night when the company said they would be paid this week, but it will be next week before a firm decision on their future is made.
This is a worrying time for the staff, some of whom have worked at the store for lengthy periods of time. One ray of hope is that Belfast City Council is drawing up an inventory of vacant retail units in the city centre which could become a temporary home for the company if it wants to begin trading quickly.
Certainly it would be a boost to the city centre if Primark was to open its doors there even on a temporary basis. It brings a significant footfall into the city centre and that also benefits other retailers.
These are challenging times on the High Street and competition is fierce between city centre and out-of-town retailers. Belfast already faces challenges in bringing people in from satellite towns and the coming months in the lead up to Christmas is vital to every retail business, accounting for a significant proportion of their annual sales.
The authorities have responded positively with Land and Property Services examining if there can be some rates relief or staged payments of rates to make up for the days neighbouring businesses are unable to trade because of the Primark fire.
This is also an appropriate juncture to pay tribute to the Fire and Rescue Service who fought valiantly to contain the fire. Not only did they stop it spreading to nearby buildings but also prevented the new extension from being consumed in the flames. The fire crews' efforts were played out live on television and social media, giving us all an insight into the dangers and challenges of their job.
And we as consumers can play our part in ensuring the future prosperity of the city centre. We often take retailers for granted until there is a threat to their continued trading. They need us just as we need them.