BLUE-chip retailers are flooding back to Dublin's Grafton Street, with the country's premier shopping destination heading for nearly full-occupancy for the first time since the recession began.
With rents 60 per cent down on the heady days of the Celtic Tiger (see chart below), some of the biggest names in fashion are willing to take a punt on setting up shop in the capital.
It is a major improvement on two years ago, when "For Sale" and "For Lease" signs in Grafton Street became a potent symbol of the decline of retail in the recession.
In 2008, the street attracted the fifth-highest rents of any shopping street in the world, but as the recession hit, stores closed, with locales remaining unoccupied for month after month.
Now leading US retailers Vans and Levi Strauss, UK lifestyle brand Cath Kidston and Spanish fashion chain Massimo Dutti are due to open over the coming months.
Just around the corner at College Green, fashion giant H&M will take over the building once occupied by National Irish Bank. H&M's 13th Irish store will be trading only two doors along from Abercrombie & Fitch.
Massimo Dutti belongs to the Inditex stable that includes Zara. The retailers first pitched up in Ireland at Dundrum Town Centre.
A major factor is the reduction in rents in Grafton Street, which are down to an average €4,000 per square metre – 60 per cent less than the peak between 2006 and 2008.
Marie Hunt, the executive director of commercial property experts CBRE Ireland, said: "Although retail sales data remains volatile, there has been considerable leasing and sales activity in the Irish retail market during 2013, particularly in the Dublin market, with a number of retailers now finding it difficult to secure stores in their preferred locations".
Prime Zone A rents in Dublin's Henry Street are now down to €3,500sqm. Rents in Dublin shopping centres range from around €1,500sqm in St Stephen's Green to €3,000sqm in Dundrum Town Centre.
Footfall in Dublin's shopping streets including Grafton Street has remained consistently high over the first half of 2013. In the city centre in the first eight months of 2013 it was up more than four per cent on the same period in 2012.
As well as major retailers, a number of overseas investment funds are looking at investing in high-end commercial properties at heavily discounted prices.
While activity in Dublin shopping areas is frenetic, with Brown Thomas looking for an extra 200 seasonal staff ahead of Christmas, the rest of the country is lagging behind.
"Unfortunately, demand for retail premises in provincial Irish towns remains muted," said Ms Hunt.