Today saw the security cordon around Primark in Belfast city centre reduce further still, with one returning shop owner saying it was good to be ‘home’.
In August last year, a blaze at Primark’s Bank Buildings caused the closure of a large area around the store.
A walkway connecting Castle Street to Donegall Place is the latest section to be reopened paving the way for the likes of Zara and City Picnic to return to the high street.
One business that was able to return to Castle Street this morning was Abacus Beads which has been a fixture in Belfast for 28 years.
Owner Kathleen McGovern said: “I’ve been away from here for seven months. I was closed for 10 weeks, then in Queen’s Arcade for almost five months.
“I’ve had a lot of regulars calling in wishing me well.
“It’s good to be back. We’ve been on this site over 15 years.
“People had asked us if we’d stay on in Queen’s Arcade, but this is where everyone knows us.
“I love having my own front door. As I’ve been saying to people, I’m glad to be home.”
She added: “People underestimate how busy Castle Street is, it’s only small businesses on it, but it’s really the gateway from that end of the city into the city centre.”
Commenting on the further reduction of the Primark cordon, Retail NI Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said: “This is welcome progress which will enable the last few traders in the area to reopen their businesses and reconnect Castle Street traders with Donegall Place.
“While this is a step forward, a huge amount of work is still needed to fully rejuvenate that part of the city centre impacted by the Primark fire.
“This whole crisis has shown just how resilient city centre traders really are. Belfast City Centre has a fantastic retail and hospitality offer, which we need to build upon in the months and years ahead.
Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director, Aodhan Connolly said: “This is wonderful news and a tangible sign that the city centre is further on the road to recovery.
“There is still much to be done and we still need the public to come down in their droves to support these traders in the cordon quarter. We need people to spend not just their money but their time in the city centre.”