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The Main Street strikes back


Buisness Richard Guiney on Grafton Street. Photo: Damien Eagers

Buisness Richard Guiney on Grafton Street. Photo: Damien Eagers

Buisness Richard Guiney on Grafton Street. Photo: Damien Eagers

THE fight is on for Dublin's main streets.

It's now five years since we entered the 'age of austerity' but at last retailers are starting to believe that shoppers are re-emerging from their economic bunkers.

Last week, Xtra-vision became the latest well-known name to go into receivership, following HMV and several other 'institutions' before it.

However, amid all the doom and gloom, those who have survived in the city centre say they will be all the stronger for it – even regaining market share from suburban shopping centres.

On Grafton Street, eight units are currently closed, but five of them are being refurbished with a view to getting new tenants.

On the other side of the Liffey, Henry Street boasts lower vacancy rates, but new openings are also planned.



Richard Guiney, of Dublin City Business Improvement District (BID) said Grafton Street is "doing extremely well", with a footfall of 74 million last year, up 5pc.

"There are eight vacant premises out of 132 – that's a vacancy rate of about 5pc, but there are five or six planning applications in for a number of units, and they will be refurbished and filled in the coming months," he said.

Grafton Street started to feel the effects of the opening of Dundrum Town Centre in 2006, two years before the official recession, but Mr Guiney said the country's main high streets are now starting to reclaim market share from the suburbs and had "good investment coming in".

"No one's going to say, 'Whoopee! We're making such money we don't know what to do with it', but we are actually starting to hold our own."

Henry Street was also "doing quite well," with a vacancy rate of 2.53pc. The optimal vacancy rate is around 8pc for businesses moving in and out.

The UK average for city centre vacancies was around 16pc.



"We've stopped the decline," Mr Guiney said. "We have a long way to go, but we've stopped the rot."

He added: "We are doing extremely well in the younger market, 18-30 age group, but we're not doing as well in the family market. We have to make the city more family-friendly."

They had "very good engagement" with the City Council on the refurbishment plans for Grafton Street, and the underground piping and telecoms work has been completed.

There are parties interested in the HMV site, and a planning application for the former Zerep site has been granted. The former HMV store's rent was reduced to €1m (from €1.8m) when it was put on the market last month to find a replacement tenant.

The site at 65/66 is "easily" the finest store on Grafton Street to have come on the letting market in years, according to letting agents, Savills.

Savills is also marketing a new store a short distance from the former HMV store.

The development at 57/58 will see two adjoining buildings amalgamated to provide around 8,000sq ft at ground and first floor levels.

It will replace Zerep and Richard Alan. Nama has committed to funding the merging of the two buildings, which were originally bought by developer Bernard McNamara.

David Fitzsimons is chief executive of Retail Excellence Ireland – which says it is the largest retail industry trade body in Ireland – and he says five of the vacant premises in Grafton Street are being negotiated at present. "The street improvement works started on Wednesday and that's a positive," he said.

"There might be some short-term disruption, but it will be very professionally managed, and there will be a new streetscape."

Asked if Grafton Street and Henry Street – once two very distinct shopping areas – had become closer in what they were offering the consumer, Mr Fitzsimons said he thought so, and that Arnotts, in terms of its customer demographic, was now closer to Brown Thomas.



However, Mr Fitzsimons said he felt that what Dublin was lacking was a centre along the lines of Cork's 'English Market'.

"The City manager has refused to knock it down to build a new shopping centre, and Dublin should have something like the English Market, where the indigenous owner/occupier would be in place in their business, serving their customers."

Such a centre should also be made rent-friendly to allow local businesses set up there. An English Market in Dublin would offer "more diversity, vibrancy and give the city more personality", Mr Fitzsimons added.