It's funny how life works out. Throughout the Noughties, unlike nearly every other retailer in the country, Clerys department store on Dublin's grand, historic O'Connell Street didn't transform itself into a mecca for the nouveau riche. It didn't throw out its loyal, not so fashionable customers in pursuit of the self-enchanted Botox generation.
It didn't forget what a department store is meant to be -- a place of all things, and not just clothes.
And by keeping its head and its perspective, it isn't in the hands of NAMA now, either. So the tortoise beat the hare after all.
Only yesterday, a senior buyer whom I respect, in a leading supermarket chain, commented to me: "If you can't find it anywhere else, you will find it in Clerys. I love Clerys."
Over its four floors you can pretty much get everything. It has sportswear and equipment in Elverys, household appliances at DID electrical, great menswear such as Magee, Strellson and Barbour, all found on the lower ground floor.
On the ground level, you will find good make-up brands, younger women's fashion labels such as Oasis, Karen Millen, Sisley; vintage store, Carousel; shoes (Rockport, a stylish American comfort brand, is exclusive to Clerys); accessories and jewellery such as Thomas Sabo and Newbridge. The first floor is home to occasion wear, older ladies wear, petite, plus-sizes, children's clothes and lingerie. The second floor houses furniture, carpets, beds, soft furnishings, crystal and kitchenware.
What struck me most going around Clerys was the happy hum you find in the store. Especially on the first floor, the floor that caters to older women.
Here staff can be found chatting with customers.
And you notice couples shopping. Older men encouraging their wives to buy themselves a new coat and enjoying the experience with them.
"It is a very unusual store that way," Sarah Daly, Clerys marketing manager, told me. "The amount of couples who shop here together is really sweet. And the husbands get really passionate about wanting to treat their wives to something new."
It was in her noticing this particular characteristic of the store, and chief executive PJ Timmin's own particular passion for the history of the company, that led Sarah and PJ to believe that Clerys' uniquely romantic heritage in the city's life should be celebrated.
If you didn't know it already, the Clerys clock (right) has been the "first date" meeting point for thousands of Dubs' love stories over the past hundred years. So for the month of February, Clerys is to be a love oasis on Dublin's oldest boulevard: St Valentine's is to be the rule of law at the store.
Celebrating love in all its guises, Clerys has a "love board" on the first floor where you can leave a message for a loved one. You can enter the competition to share your memories of love, family and Clerys (the closing date is Tuesday, February 15). Already some of these stories are displayed in the store's windows, enchanting passers-by.
There are also lots of special offers around the store, such as a two-course lunch with glass of wine in their tea rooms for just €10 and a wash and blow-dry in John Adams for €20.
A grand piano has been positioned near the jewellery area, and good pianists are invited to entertain all. On February 24, at 7pm, in the true style of romances beginning under their clock, Clerys are hosting a speed-dating event. See www.clerys.ie or Facebook for more information.
"Clerys is a unique store," PJ told me. "We are Irish. We are proud to stock more Irish brands than any other department store in the country. We have changed -- you have to survive. But we don't believe in throwing the baby out with the bath water. We have customers who have shopped here for generations and we are grateful to them."
PJ is also very proud of winning the prestigious Green Retailer of the Year award, making the store one of the best environmentally, as well as Irish, friendly businesses around.
Clerys women's wear buyer, Geraldine Waldron, told me that customers have often remarked that they feel unwelcome in some stores in our city, such has been the pursuit of youth, small sizes and high fashion.
However, on Clerys' first floor all are welcome and free to browse at their own pace.
Personally, I am a big fan of Clerys' lingerie department, which not only stocks fabulous Lejaby (sometimes as much as a tenner cheaper than some stores), but has excellent fitters and a great shapewear department with Miraclebody, Playtex's new retro line, Flexees and Spanx. It also caters to big-busted women (up to double H) as a matter of course and still does "roll ons" for older customers.
Apart from all of that, I love the fact that you can get so many personal services here, including chiropody, hairdressing, threading, an eyelash salon, a nail bar, a beauty salon, coffee shop and a restaurant. It just makes life so much easier to know that you have only to walk through one set of doors to find so many solutions.
Photography: Sarah Doyle
assisted by Cait Fahey
Styling: Jan Brierton at Morgan the
Agency, assisted by Linda Kenny &
Maobh Mooney Hair and make-up:
Billy Orr at Morgan The Agency
Models: Agneta, Anne and Rodrigo at
Morgan The Agency.
Very special thanks to Lynn & Carlo
Appleby and Mary Mulvaney
Sunday Indo Living