The well known cut-through pedestrian route, Union Street but nicknamed Smelly Alley locally, has been closed ever since the fire that ripped through C Mart Asian food store in Friar Street on Friday, May 26.
Flames tore through the structure prompting a major firefighting operation with water, smoke and electrical damage affecting neighbouring businesses including those in Union Street.
The Friar Street entrance to the alley remains closed one month on but almost all of the businesses in Union Street are open as usual, which includes phone repair shops, beauticians and craft beer and cheese shop The Grumpy Goat.
Many of these businesses have been impacted by the lack of passing trade over the past month and two further businesses that remain closed within the cordon are Union Food and Wine and the Ever Beauty Salon.
Meanwhile, Mystic Lounge Tattoo and Piercing Studio has relocated to Cheapside.
Tattoo artist Melanie Morningstar explained that her business partner was able to secure the temporary location so they can continue business operations.
Melanie said: “Because we’re all self employed, we didn’t want to have our staff unemployed basically. Obviously our priority was to get up and running as soon as possible.
“We were lucky to find this location for now, because we don’t know realistically when exactly when we’re going to be able to go back to the other one.”
The tattoo parlour now occupies a long unit with tattoo and piercing beds for customers.
Melanie added: “We had to do all this in three days.
“We just have to start doing work in it to make it fit, we need to redo the flooring, it’s 100 per cent safe to go in, it’s just a matter of decorating.
“It’s mostly smoke and water damage, the fire didn’t get to our property.”
She said: “We’re just trying to get back in as soon as possible to be honest.
“Hopefully not less than a couple of months but not too long either.”
Back in Union Street, business owners are frustrated that part of the street remains closed.
Khuran Shehzad of F 4 Fones fears that he may have to close as footfall in Union Street has fallen dramatically.
Mr Shezhad said: “I can understand if the building is unsafe, but I don’t understand why is the council cannot simply board it up, give a metre space so people can get through so our businesses are not affected.
“If the building has to be rebuilt, this could be going on for a year. I do not think we can survive in this environment. We have to pay rent.
“How am I going to raise that money when I have no customers? There are going to be businesses winding up, altogether.”
Mr Shezhad was one of 17 business owners to write to Matt Rodda, the Labour MP for Reading East to lobby for the entrance to be opened as soon as possible.
The letter states: “Please could you help us in solving this situation and getting the access from Friar Street into Union Street opened as soon as possible, as it is the question of survivability of not only the businesses but the households that are attached to the businesses now.
“For most of the businesses this is the only stream of income for their household. We would appreciate any help that you can provide.”
The entrance remains closed due to electricity isolation and structural survey work that needs to take place.
It has been acknowledged that ‘Smelly Alley’ is a major arterial route between Friar Street and Broad Street, and that small and medium sized businesses are the backbone of the Reading economy.
A Reading Borough Council official has stressed that public safety is a priority.
The council has also said that while most of Union Street is open for business, barriers will remain at the Friar Street entrance to prevent injury from falling and loose debris from the buildings that were affected most by the fire.
A spokesperson from SSEN Distribution said: “Our engineers safely and successfully completed the initial request to isolate specific power supplies at this location last Thursday; following on from this, we have now been asked to isolate two additional supplies and we are currently working with the individual property owners to carry out the works.”