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Ireland reopens: 'Lockdown has been brutal for everyone, it's great to be back open' - shoppers hit stores

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Sandra Hutchinson and her daughter Tammy (11) who were first to enter the Penneys store in the Blanchardstown as Covid restrictions on shopping are lifted. Photograph: Gerry Mooney

Sandra Hutchinson and her daughter Tammy (11) who were first to enter the Penneys store in the Blanchardstown as Covid restrictions on shopping are lifted. Photograph: Gerry Mooney

Sandra Hutchinson and her daughter Tammy (11) who were first to enter the Penneys store in the Blanchardstown as Covid restrictions on shopping are lifted. Photograph: Gerry Mooney

Underwear, Christmas pyjamas, and decorations were in high demand this morning when Penneys was the first store to open its doors in the Blanchardstown Centre in Dublin.

After six weeks of being shuttered-up because of Level 5 Covid restrictions there was a lengthy queue of around 200 people outside its doors at 6.30am waiting for them to open at 7am.

Now that the country has moved back to Level 3, retail stores, gyms, barbers and hairdressers can finally open up again and hope to generate some seasonal revenue.

Sandra Hutchinson and her daughter Tammy (11) had been in the centre since 4am to bag a few essentials.

Having driven up from Kildare she said she missed Penneys while it was closed.

“I thought the queue would be massive so I left really early, now I feel a bit foolish,” she said with a laugh.

“I’m here for PJs, socks, and decorations. It’s great to be able to buy some essential clothes again,” she added.

“It’s been a long six weeks,” Sandra explained just as the doors opened at 6.47am and the queue started to snake into the store, being stopped occasionally by security to ensure there was no crowding at the basket collection area.

While social distancing was poor in the queue outside the shop, everyone was wearing masks.

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The queue dispersed in less than ten minutes, and from that point there was a steady trickle of shoppers filtering into the store.

Inside the shop there were regular announcements over the speakers reminding people to adhere to social distancing and wear masks.

Discs on the floors also marked out two-metre distances.

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Shoppers at Penneys in Blanchardstown this morning. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Shoppers at Penneys in Blanchardstown this morning. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Shoppers at Penneys in Blanchardstown this morning. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Catherine Brady from Clonee arrived at Blanchardstown Centre at 5.45am.

“I only want a few bits and pieces but I was afraid there’d be a queue so I came early because I have to be in work at 9am,” she told Independent.ie

“I’ll be straight to Dunnes after here,” she added with a smile.

Asked if she was concerned about the country moving from Level 5 to Level 3, Catherine said she thought that it would be fine.

“We’re going to have to live with this Covid thing,” she said.

Others weren’t so sure.

“I think we’ll be back to lockdown in a few weeks if people go mad over Christmas,” said Chloe Mulholland from Blanchardstown.

“I’m delighted to get back out again, and if we are smart we can be safe,” she said.

“I’m here for a few presents and clothes,” she added.

Vanessa Reilly, also from Blanchardstown, said she missed Penneys and was out to buy what the vast majority of people were buying - Christmas gear and some clothes.

In the popular Zara store staff were eager to welcome customers back, and a steady stream of customers were lined-up for the checkout while socially distanced.

“We have been selling online while we were closed and we were very busy. We are just clearing the last of the Black Friday orders today,” said manager Valeria Sosa.

“We are expecting a good few customers once the school run is over, and people get down to the Christmas shopping,” she added.

Olga Cabinka was looking forward to meeting customers in the flesh once more.

“I like to help people make their choices and give them guidance, so it is good to see customers in the shop again,” she said.

One of those customers, Laura Spring from Blanchardstown, said she was picking up some items for herself after being in Penneys.

“I don’t usually like shopping very much, but I had to pick up some odds and sods in Penneys so I’m doing a bit of shopping here while I’m out anyway,” she said.

She said that although the lockdown has been eased she will still be staying in her own family bubble as much as possible over Christmas.

“I might meet up with one or two friends, but I’ve become used to lockdown now. I’ve done a lot of shopping online,” Laura explained.

As the morning progressed more shoppers were arriving at the Blanchardstown Centre, but there was plenty of room and people were relaxed and socially distancing.

Some store staff said they had anticipated more crowds and were happy to see that people were shopping safely.

In Cork, shoppers expressed delight at the re-opening of non-essential shops.

For many, it marked the long overdue start of the Christmas season – with many retailers using festive ribbons and decorations to mark their eagerly-awaited resumption of trading.

Hundreds flocked to Cork city centre, Cork towns and shopping centres as traders worked to make up for lost time and sales.

However, unlike in Dublin there weren't major queues as Cork shoppers adopted a more pragmatic approach with many retailers offering longer opening hours until December 24.

Pat Martin of Guiney's said it was fantastic to be back open.

"There is a great buzz here and around the town," he said.

"It has been a brutal six weeks for everyone so it is just great to be back open again. For staff, shop owners and shoppers the next few weeks will be critical. I just hope it will be a prosperous few weeks for everyone."

Tom Murphy of Murphy's Menswear said the Christmas trading season will be the most important ever for many retailers.

"Sales over the next few weeks are going to be vital," he said.

Cork Business Association (CBA) President Eoin O’Sullivan urged people to support local traders who need a prosperous Christmas more than ever before.

"It is about supporting local traders and local jobs. Our members are doing their utmost to ensure everyone's safety and implementing Covid-19 potection guidelines."

To add to the excitement, the 're-imagined' GLOW Cork Christmas Celebration opened today and offers city centre shoppers a special Christmas Pantomime Window Trail.

GLOW will aim to combine traditional Christmas attractions with a safe and socially distanced atmosphere.

Lord Mayor of Cork Councillor Joe Kavanagh said it was vital for people to support their local traders.

“We have re-imagined GLOW this year so we can all safely enjoy and celebrate Christmas in Cork," he said.

"So keep your eyes peeled for our trail of 10 festive windows dotted around the city centre.

To be fair, you won’t be able to miss the 32m panoramic ferris wheel and carousel which is back on Grand Parade with robust safety measures in place.”

Shoppers Bridget Power and Mary Dunphy said it was great to see the city centre so vibrant.

"We came into town around 8.30am - we've never been here so early for Christmas shopping before," Bridget said.

"There's a lovely atmosphere around the place. You'd miss all the shops and not being able to browse around. Everyone seemed to be smiling today - it feels like the real Cork again."

However, it wasn't a joyous Christmas for all traders.

Publican Michael O'Donovan said it was effectively a two-tier easing of the lockdown with pubs still forced to remain closed.

"It is heartbreaking - pubs are part and parcel of the entire Christmas experience in Cork and it is desperately sad to see them having to remain closed."

Meanwhile, Dublin City Council has given the go-ahead for a limited number of stalls to go ahead at the annual Henry Street Market in Dublin City Centre, having announced last month that the popular market would not go ahead.

On November 11 the council said the market would not open due to public health fears.

But angry traders, whose families have been operating the market for around 80 years, argued that if the main retail stores could open indoors then they should be allowed to open outdoors.

A meeting between the Council and the traders was brokered by Lord Mayor Hazel Chu, and the traders were informed yesterday that a limited number of stalls would be allowed to operate, and that lots would need to be drawn to decide who gets them.

In a letter to traders the Council offered to accommodate 15 stalls on Henry Street and a further ten on O’Connell Street.

Traders have said they are disappointed that more stalls cannot be accommodated, but have vowed to help each other as best they can.

“We will try to sell stock for those who don’t get stalls so we can help them a bit. Traders depend on the Christmas markets and many have already bought stock earlier in the year,” said one trader.


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