‘Happy Primark Eve!’ said one ecstatic shopper today.
And for the thousands of others who have also been waiting patiently for the clothing giant to re-open its flagship store in Belfast, there are just a few hours more to go.
Tomorrow marks a major milestone in the slow return to normality in the city centre when Primark on Castle Street welcomes loyal shoppers again, more than three months after the devastating fire at the historic Bank Buildings.
A temporary walkway reconnecting Royal Avenue to Donegall Place opened earlier this week, allowing pedestrians to walk past the gutted building for the first time.
Primark will re-open its doors at 9am via a Castle Street entrance at the rear of the cordoned-off Bank Buildings, with huge numbers of people expected to descend on its four floors as the Christmas shopping season moves up a gear.
Christmas jammies and jumpers are sure to be among the must-have items, as well as party frocks for festive work dos and decorations for the all-important tree.
Secretary of State Karen Bradley got a preview of the store during a visit on Wednesday, as the retail giant runs a countdown clock on its website ahead of the big day.
New signage and maps across the city centre are in place, showing which businesses have reopened and highlighting those near the remaining cordon areas.
Fast-food giant McDonald’s, jewellery store Argento, footwear chain Sketchers and convenience store Spar have all resumed trading this week.
Pedestrians use the temporary walkway that allows them to walk past the Primark building for the first time in three months. Picture by Mal McCann
But the focus of attention has always been on Primark, which begins trading again at Commonwealth House on Castle Street tomorrow morning.
The nearby Zara, Tesco Metro and British Heart Fountain stores remain closed, while works continue to secure the Bank Buildings site.
Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director Aodhán Connolly said it has been a great week for retail in Belfast.
“Firstly we had the reopening of the city centre’s main thoroughfare which allowed some shops to open and allowed shoppers to easily cross the city centre and now we have a huge footfall draw of Primark’s store opening which will hopefully bring new life to what is being called the cordon quarter.
“This store opening is a testament to the commitment of Primark to Belfast and could not come soon enough. With less than 20 shopping days left until Christmas we really need to see shoppers on our streets making the most of the great offers to be had.”
Following the Primark fire at Bank Buildings on August 28, Belfast suffered from a dramatic slump in retail footfall, with 14 businesses left unable to trade and some of the city’s busiest streets left disconnected as a result.
Figures released last month showed a footfall decline of over 60 per cent in certain pockets of the city centre, with Asher’s Bakery citing a lack of shoppers as a key factor in closing its Royal Avenue outlet in October.
A temporary walkway, seen on the left of this picture, allows pedestrians to walk directly from Royal Avenue to Donegall Place. Picture by Mal McCann