GOREY has always been a great business town, but did you know that it has now become a serious fashionista destination? Esmonde Street has become a boulevard of boutiques and cafes, acquiring the tag of G4 and attracting the ladies in their droves.
I took a promenade through the shops, and the cafes that have sprung up here to provide rest and relaxation for all those shoppers. From flirty and sophisticated dresses, wedding gowns and mother-of-the-bride outfits, to colourful lingerie, shoes, make-up, and decorative household items, it is all here on the 'G4 Boulevard'.
My first port of call was to The Little Kitchen, run by pastry chef Cathy Owens. Having run a home-based online bakery in Kilmuckridge for a couple of years, supplying cafes and hotels with her cupcakes, Cathy opened The Little Kitchen just four weeks ago in a pretty shop adorned with crystal chandeliers.
"I wanted to open something a little more permanent. And here we are," she says.
Everything is baked on site and Cathy buys locally and from Irish producers. She uses free-range eggs, and also buys dressings from Ciara's Pantry, a local online business, specialising in artisan chutneys, salad dressings, jellies and so on (www.ciaraspantry.com).
"I am a big supporter of business networking, and promoting other businesses."
NIAMH Byrne's Ruby Rouge is a knockout whirl of colour and glamour. The boutique is described as pure girly heaven, and looking at gorgeous Manoush frou-frou lacy confections, it certainly lives up to the claim. It also has mother-of-the-bride outfits, and an online shop.
Marian McKenna's La Creme has been in business for 15 years in Gorey, and she carries 68 Irish and international labels in sizes 10 to 26.
"We are very much a destination shop for mother of the bride and groom. Business is really, really good for us. It is not just a shop where you come and buy your dress. We put a huge amount of money into personal styling courses, so if you came into me I would look at your colouring, your hair, the length of your neck, the way you wear your necklace, long body, short body, how to elongate your leg – and our website would say that one visit changes how you shop forever, and that would be our ethos. We even teach you how to hold your handbag for the pictures.
"You can buy a dress here for under €100 or you can buy a dress for €1,000. People are looking for really good quality at a lower price. Spanish labels are coming in at very good quality with good prices."
If you buy your outfit at La Creme for a wedding, you can also borrow a hat for the event and it will be couriered to you anywhere in Ireland. "It is our thank you for shopping with us. It is our way of giving back to the customer."
I bet you didn't know that you can buy the same boots in Gorey that Kate Middleton wears when she is tripping around Knightsbridge! The prestigious Italian Aquatalia range is flying out the door of Sinead O'Loughlin's Kibo shoe shop.
"I started almost two years ago as a result of a little bit of a dream. I was made redundant at the end of 2009 from Diageo, and I said, 'If I am going to make a go of it at all, I'll try it now.'
"It's going very well. People want something that's a little bit different."
There are two bridal shops close together with dresses to suit any bride. Glamourize Bridal & Accessories stocks Ellis as well as Benjamin Roberts, Mon Cheri and Tia Bridal. Embrace Bridal collection includes Mori Lee by Madeline Gardner, Blu, Voyage and Angelina Faccenda.
Close by is Dee's Lingerie Shop, which ensures your shape is enhanced to best effect. It stocks Freya, Panache, Fantasie, Cleo, Sloggi and Triumph to name but a few.
Attracted by a little clapperboard on the street, I headed up a narrow staircase into Primrose Cottage Cakes. Here Siobhan Casey tells me how she got into the cake world.
"I was made redundant in January 2010 from Sigma-Aldrich, a pharmaceutical company in Arklow, but everything happens for a reason. I was making cakes as a hobby so I knew really where I was going to go with it then. I did a professional cake-making course at Peggy Porschen in London, and I do a lot of wedding cakes."
Marian Young's shop The Store Room opened on Esmonde Street two weeks before Christmas with a lovely range of gifts and household items – and multi-fuel stoves.
"My husband, Liam, is an energy auditor and an engineer registered with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, so his end of the business is sustainable living. I would be into interiors, so we combined both our interests and decided we would open a shop where everything is natural. We have natural soaps and candles, and we also support Irish products and Fair Trade. Our stoves are made here in Co Wexford."
Hazel O'Byrne of The Dressing Room runs a streamlined business, knowing exactly what works for her customers.
"I started on Switzer's courtesy desk at 18 and then moved to the Ralph Lauren department in Brown Thomas for nine years. I then worked with some small boutiques – and decided I was going to do it for myself, opening almost three years ago.
"Eighty per cent of our business is from 'strangers'. Hordes of women come down to the Seafield Hotel at Ballymoney and the Amber Springs here. There isn't a street in Ireland with this many boutiques. Between us all we have every brand you can get, and we are all different."
Hazel stocks Fran & Jane, Rene Derhy, Frock Art, and So Couture.
"I keep it tight, they are hot potatoes and walk out the door. I have new stuff all the time. We will have deliveries every week from now until the end of June. Saturday here, you can hardly get a fitting room."
Next door at Soul Cuisine I met Kaymann Donnelly, who opened the cafe just over a year ago. Soul Cuisine does salads and deli foods as well as gluten-free foods, breads, pizzas and desserts. It also has a calorie- counted menu as well as 'points'.
Soul Cuisine offers dinner in the evening with a wide range of dishes from Caribbean chicken fillet to Moroccan lamb shank and chocolate and chilli beef.
You can bring your own wine or beer with no corkage charge. "A lot of people say that what they save on the corkage pays their taxi fare," says Glen.
Across the road is Luca Boutique, which is celebrating five years in its current location. It has In Wear, Marco Polo, Nougat, Jackpot, and lots of bright dressy separates.
Ashanti Gold is another popular long-standing boutique. It stocks Joseph Ribkoff, Frank Walder, Monari, Gerard Darel, James Lakeland, Gant, Sandwich, and more. www.ashantigold.ie
Colin O'Reilly of Ice Menswear Emporium has been in business for seven years, specialising in smart casual clothes for any age including cute little Communion suits for boys. He stocks Fynch-Hatton, Stone, Brook Taverner, Bruhl and so on.
He has kept his prices very competitive. "I have knitwear from €24 up to €79, and all the suits in the shop at the moment are €150."
Debbie Loane owns Lilli, a boutique selling both clothes and accessories. Debbie buys abroad regularly so the stock is ever-changing. She has a size 16-plus collection too. Labels Debbie stocks include Julie, Sweewe, Decollage, Purple Rose and Magna.
Making Faces is a professional make-up studio. Owner Stacey Brennan tells me, "We do make-up, make-up lessons, weddings, extensions, and we sell Rupa Cosmetics. We don't see any downturn – ladies won't let themselves go." www.making-faces.ie
Next door, Brid Fitzgerald has been running Pets & Things for 22 years. "People still want goldfish, and food for their pets," she says. Brid also has the cutest little rabbits and guinea pigs.
across the road is The Gas Lamp Gallery & Framers which, in partnership with Gorey Chamber of Commerce, is running the Artfest competition for local artists. Check it out.
After my trawl through the boutiques, I was more than ready to meet Didier Senecal who owns La Baguette Artisan Boulangerie & Patisserie, which opened last August. I was blown away by the wonderful breads and cakes.
Didier is from Etrepagny in Normandy. His breads range from traditional Irish soda bread to tomato and Paprika, multigrain, baguette, campagne, campaillette, campaillou, corn bread, spelt & honey, omega 3, maya and more.
As for Didier's cakes – amazing. "We are the only Ronde des Pains [a network of independent craft bakers] in Ireland with everything made fresh every day, all home made, local produce, no preservatives or colourings."
I absolutely pigged out on delicious carrot cake – and I'll be back for more.
Forget Bond Street or Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore – head for G4.