The gutted remains of the Primark store in central Belfast.
By Anthony Neeson
Businesses owners in Belfast city center are counting the costs after one of the city’s apartment stores was gutted in a blaze.
The 233-year-old Bank Building which housed the Primark store caught fire at 11 a.m. last Tuesday morning while construction work was taking place on the roof.
The store was undergoing a £30 million revamp that was to add 30,000 square feet of shopping space and create more than 100 jobs. 350 people work at Primark both full-time and part-time.
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Parts of the city center are still cordoned off amid fears that the façade could collapse.
The blaze gutted all five floors of the listed building putting it at risk of collapse.
Belfast businesses are expected to lose tens of millions of pounds due to the fire in the run-up to Christmas.
Staff have been told that their jobs are “safe” and will be paid up to last week, but have not received certainty beyond that.
Primark worker Ciara Gribbon said workers had “lost everything” in the fire.
“I’m absolutely devastated,” she said. “I’ve been nervous, panicking. My friend who was working at the time said that it was really scary, but they did really well and got everybody out. People have lost everything
“The lockers are on the fifth floor and they couldn’t get anything because the building was burning. People have lost their phones, and purses.
“I was due to work. I was really worried about them, so I’m glad everyone is safe. After that I started thinking that I might not have a job.
“We’re not sure if we have lost our jobs yet. I only work part-time and I have no other jobs, so I’m freaking out a bit about money.”
Fellow Primary employee, Eimear Harrison, whose son also works in the store, was concerned about her job.
“Me and my son both work there and we are the only earners in my house. Not knowing what will happen is scary.
“Everybody is heartbroken. Hopefully we will know what is happening after the meeting, but I would be heartbroken if I lost my job. I’ve been there twelve years.”
Trade unions and Belfast City Council are keen for Primark to take over one of the empty buildings in the city as a temporary measure to secure the 350 jobs and to secure the commercial footfall that Primark brings into the city center.