Shoppers are making cross-border journeys to avoid the click-and-collect and shop-by-appointment retail restrictions in the Republic.
As Covid restrictions eased further today, many people availed of their right to inter-county travel by heading for Newry where they can browse in the aisles or jump into a barber’s chair for a much-needed haircut without an appointment.
And while today is the first official day of being allowed such journeys, shopping centre managers in Newry say there have been quite a few people making the trip over the past few weeks after they opened up again for business.
In the car parks of the Buttercrane and Quays shopping centres, the southern registration plates could be spotted from Louth, Dublin, Meath, Westmeath and farther afield.
And while shopping was the main task on the agenda, many said the freedom to travel and see something different was also something that helped them decide to head north.
Sarah Conway, Kira Bryan and Rachel Hogan all made the trip from Glasnevin in Dublin to stock up at Primark in the Buttercrane Centre.
“There was a seven-hour queue to book a slot to shop in Penneys at home. You could drive up here and do your shopping and get home in less time than that,” said Kira.
“The queues down at home are mad too, so we decided to come up here. Loads of people are talking about doing it,” said Sarah.
Asked what they were shopping for, Rachel said clothes and underwear was the main priority, but as the three ladies all play for Na Fianna there would be a visit to a sports shop too.
“We need football shorts and gum shields, so we’ll get them today too,” Kira said.
Gillian McDermott and her daughter Kacey drove from Ashbourne in Co Meath.
“There was no traffic and we got here quite quickly. I would travel to the North a lot ordinarily so I know it well, but I wouldn’t know Newry too well. We picked here because of Primark,” said Gillian.
“When we arrived in the shop, Kacey said to me ‘mam, slow down, you’re running’,” she added with a laugh.
In the shopping centres, cafes are still operating on a takeaway basis only, and restrictions such as limited numbers in shops, the wearing of face masks, and one-way systems are in place, as well as plenty of hand sanitising stations.
Mother and daughter Colette and Amy Carney had made the short journey from Dunleer in Co Louth to do their shopping, and like others, they said the fact you can actually pick up the clothes off the rack and check their size is something they prefer over online shopping.
“I’m sick of returning stuff that isn’t the right size. We didn’t come here because of prices or anything, it was because we were able to go into the shops, and to see something different too now that we can travel,” said Colette.
Buttercrane Shopping Centre manager Peter Murray said they had reopened their doors on April 30.
“We have seen southern visitors, there’s no doubt about that. Part of our normal catchment area does go into the Cooley Peninsula into Louth anyway. We have people that criss-cross the Border both ways daily for absolutely legitimate reasons,” he said.
“But certainly with shops being closed in the South, and us open this last 10 days, we have seen southern people availing of that.”
This was borne out by Martin Hutchinson, a barber at the Grafton Barber shop in Buttercrane.
“We’ve been open the last three weekends and I’d say 80pc of our customers have been coming up from the South.”
“They were stuck for a haircut and they couldn’t get one near home so they made the journey. We were flat-out when we opened and now things have kind of returned to normal, but I’d say we’ll notice less customers now that the barbers are open down south again,” he added.
In the Peter Mark salon in Queens Shopping Centre, manager Natasha McNally said a lot of customers of their branches in the Republic had been looking for appointments in Newry since they opened two weeks ago.
“We would be able to access their colour card records and things, and that would make things easier. We would fit them in if we could, but we had to look after our regular clients first,” she said.
“Things are beginning to return to normal now but we’ve been very busy since we opened again,” she added.
Rhonda and Paul Teeling from Coolock in Dublin were in Newry to stock up for their new home bar, which they are putting together in anticipation of better days ahead.
“We did well I think, and we’re free to travel now so we thought, why not?,” said Paul.
“And I was able to go into River Island and get a few things. We came up after we dropped the young lad to school and we’ll be home in time to pick him up. It was no hassle really,” said Rhonda.
And at the Next clothing outlet in the Quays, sisters Fiona Casey and Siobhan McGuirk from Dundalk said the short trip up the motorway was worth it.
“Even to be able to try things on or check their size is more convenient. It only took us a quarter of an hour to get here,” said Siobhan.