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Chain to bring hip styles, lower prices to Downtown Crossing

The Primark in Manchester, England.PA Wire/Press Association Images/Press Association Images

In six months, Primark will open a four-floor store covering 70,000 square feet in the heart of Downtown Crossing. That has been prompting a common question around Boston: What the heck is Primark?

It has come up often since the Dublin-based retailer announced intentions nearly a year ago to open its first store in the United States at the former site of Filene’s Basement, called the Burnham Building.

Retail analysts describe Primark as being similar to Sweden’s H&M, selling in-the-moment clothing at a slightly lower price point than Zara of Spain.

Breege O’Donoghue, a Primark board member and director of business development and new markets, said the stores target fashion-conscious millennials but also appeal to a much wider demographic.


Case in point: O’Donoghue, who is 70 years old, deftly wore a long light blue structured jacket, graphic pants, and a sheer white tunic from Primark to an interview Tuesday. Her outfit cost about $50.

“We recognize that there’s not a high level of awareness about Primark,” she said. “We’re a value retailer. Our business is about affordable fashion at great quality and great prices.”

Few Americans are familiar with Primark because the relatively small retailer has yet to expand outside of Europe.

The company started 46 years ago in Ireland, where its stores are known as “Penneys,” in 1969. In total, the retailer operates 287 stores in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Austria, and France.

“If you compare that to H&M and Zara, those companies launch more new stores every year than Primark has total,” said Brian Ehrig, a retail analyst with Kurt Salmon of New York.

Ehrig said customers should not expect the new Primark store to be anything like Filene’s Basement, its retail predecessor downtown. The iconic Boston department store sold steeply discounted name brands, such as Calvin Klein jeans and Hugo Boss and Hickey Freeman suits.


Primark sells its own labels and buys clothing directly from manufacturers. That allows the retailer to offer low prices, aiming to sell lots of product quickly. For example, Primark sold 350 million pair of socks and 200 million T-shirts last year.

Primark executives said they chose Boston for the first US store, which will employ about 500 people, because of the downtown location, the large population of international students, and a warm reception from city leaders.

“We wanted to be in a cosmopolitan environment and Boston is a cosmopolitan and international city,” said Jose Luis Martinez de Larramendi, president of Primark US Corp. “The building itself will be a mark for Primark and the city.”

Mayor Martin J. Walsh visited with Primark executives on a trip to Ireland last year. He planned to host an event Wednesday evening in Boston to introduce the company to the local business community.

Primark said it intends to run its US business from Boston and is close to signing a deal on local office space.

The company plans to open as many as 10 stores in America by the end of next year.

Last year, Primark agreed to takeover seven leases from Sears Holding in key US markets. The company’s second store will open in the King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania in late fall.

In Boston, the historic Burnham Building is in the midst of a $689 million renovation, led by Millennium Partners, that the city hopes will complete a revival of the Downtown Crossing neighborhood. The developer is refurbishing the existing building, which has been empty since 2006, and constructing a 625-foot glass tower next door to house luxury condos.


Primark is one of many retailers that have recently targeted Boston.

The Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo moved into the city last year and now has several stores. Target Corp. plans to open its first CityTarget, an urban-concept store, in a four-story space in the Fenway in July.

Taryn Luna can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @TarynLuna.