Northern Ireland news

Traders 'worried' following Primark fire

Tony McCallum, co-owner of Executive Barbers in Castle Street in Belfast, said traders in the area are "worried" about their businesses
Marie Louise McConville

Traders whose businesses are located near the burnt out shell of Bank Buildings in Belfast were last night still unaware if and when they will be able to reopen.

Key holders, many of whom own businesses in the area of Castle Street alongside Primark, were yesterday called to a meeting at City Hall where they were updated on the latest regarding the blaze.

The meeting took place as the Fire Service remained at the scene of the fire.

Two hoses were still directing water at the historic building yesterday and while the façade appeared in tact, it was clear all the floors had collapsed.

However, a new extension to the rear of the well-known building appeared untouched.

The cordon at Castle Junction had been lessened allowing the many people still keen to take photographs of the aftermath of the fire to get closer and despite the loss of such a landmark building and the risk to hundreds of jobs, some shoppers also chose to pose for smiling selfies with the gutted Bank Buildings in the background.

Kathleen McGovern, who owns Abacus Beads, which has been based in Castle Street for the past 15 years, yesterday said she felt "sick to the stomach with worry" about the future of her 27-year-old business.

"It's very, very emotional," she said.

The businesswoman closed her business just before 12pm on Tuesday when windows in Primark began smashing.

Yesterday, following a meeting for traders at city hall, Ms McGovern, accompanied by a firefighter, was allowed to return to her business to secure it.

"It is not as bad as I feared, the windows aren't broken," she said.

"There's an awful smell of smoke in the shop. Whilst it's bad, it could have been a lot worse. They let me lock it and I am happy it's secured for now".

She added: "My main concern is still if Primark collapses".

"The rubble will just go outside and wipe me out," she said.

"I'm worried about when I will be able to open. As a small, independent trader, you can't afford to be closed for a length of time".

However, Ms McGovern said she believed she will have to relocate her business.

"If I have to, I have to and I have fantastic support from friends, family and customers.We will cross each bridge as it comes".

Ms McGovern said a meeting would take place every day to keep traders updated.

Tony McCallum, who co-owns Executive Barbers, also based in Castle Street, said it was a worrying time for traders in the area.

Having closed the business at 12.30pm on Tuesday after being evacuated by police, Mr McCallum returned to the scene later that night to try and check on his business however he "couldn't get anywhere near it".

On returning again yesterday morning, he was prevented from opening his business until later in the morning.

"We were here three hours before we had a customer," he said.

The barber said other traders were "worried" as they are in "the unknown".

"We were asking when we could open", he said.

"Others are worried about the wage bill for their staff.

"I was panicking...it's pay weekend, this could make or break our month".

Bob McCoubrey, who co-owns Mourne Seafood Bar and Belfast Cookery School at Bank Square in Belfast, said he was hoping to reopen today following the nearby fire.

"There's no point fretting or worrying. We are lucky that we don't rely on passing footfall," he said.

"It's the smaller businesses that suffer and particularly the ones inside the cordon.

"The problem now is that Castle Street is a cul-de-sac, no through traffic. That will affect the ones inside the cordon and the ones outside, no footfall.

"I suppose the message is Belfast is still open for business".

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