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Grafton Street decline claims iconic jeweller


A sign on West Jewellers stating that it will be closing down.

A sign on West Jewellers stating that it will be closing down.

A sign on West Jewellers stating that it will be closing down.

WEST of Grafton Street Ltd once proudly proclaimed a royal warrant as watchmakers to Queen Victoria and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The queen even purchased two exact copies of the Tara Brooch, crafted 160 years ago by the goldsmiths and jewellers of West's.

But that illustrious history counts for nothing in these hard-headed days of recession. Last week, the venerable jewellers to "the quality" was in its death throes -- a 50 per cent sale of high-quality gems, gold, silver and the finest timepieces money can buy.

Jeweller Robert Halpin peers over the counter where he has worked for the last 46 years and sighs: "We are a dinosaur. Grafton Street just doesn't attract our type of clientele anymore. Our customers were the discreetly wealthy and they are gone now."

Sure the recession has wiped out the fortunes of many of those who had a penchant for trinkets and treasures, but he says the decline of Grafton Street into a tatty copy of a provincial English high street is also to blame.

He tells an anecdote of a dear friend who witnessed the arrival of the first fast food joints on the boulevard and tartly observed the decline could be traced back to the day when people no longer had to use a knife and fork to eat on Grafton Street.

Mr Halpin rails against the influx of British competition like the upmarket Liverpool jewellers Boodles on the other side of Grafton Street, which has a big bling factor and attracted the nouveau riche of the boom.

"It's tragic really. Grafton Street has lost its lustre," he says

The imminent closure of the jewellers, which first opened as West Sons on Dublin's Capel Street in 1720, will leave another empty and forlorn shopfront on Ireland's most famous shopping street.

Dunnes Stores' double-fronted premises have been vacant for more than a year; so has the landmark building at the junction with Nassau Street previously occupied by The Mortgage Store.

There's another vacant shop on the opposite side of the street to Vera Moda and the premises where a Chinese herbs and acupuncture centre once traded is also empty. The signs of estate agents dot the street advertising property for sale, rent or lease. It's a depressing sight

Meanwhile, John Corcoran of Korky's Shoes is reaching a critical stage of his battle with his landlords -- insurance giant Canada Life.

He too is aghast at the slow slide of Grafton Street.

"It should be our Bond Street, our Fifth Avenue but look at it. Convenience Stores with jokey post cards on stands outside the shop, empty premises and a proliferation of mobile phone shops. The paving should be ripped up and they should start again. It just looks so grubby."

Mr Corcoran reckons he is losing €5,000 a week on his shop on Grafton Street. His other shops in Henry Street, the Ilac Centre, Dundrum and Cork have to make up the deficit. "The Dundrum outlet is far far busier than Grafton Street and the rent is less than half," he adds.

Mr Corcoran opened Korky's on Grafton Street 15 years ago when the rent was €100,000 a year. His rent has risen to €445,000 a year for a retail space of 900sq ft -- about the size of a small two-bedroom apartment.

Add in about €50,000 a year for rates and he has to find nearly €500,000 to trade on the premier shopping street. In his view it doesn't make sense. His battle with his landlords may end up in the courts. Proceeding have been issued by Canada Life.

Mr Corcoran has offered to pay €300,000 to anyone willing to buy out his lease on the Grafton Street pitch. He first made the offer a year ago. He has not received a single offer.

"What galls me is that since I first came into Grafton Street it was still a beautiful place to visit and to spend money. It's been going steadily downhill," he added.

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