On Monday evening after finishing work, I took a trip into Cork city centre for a very important date: I had an appointment for Penneys.
It’s been five months since we were last permitted into any clothes shop so it was an exciting prospect to regain a semblance of normality for 60 minutes.
Turning the corner from Opera Lane at 5.45pm, I saw a comfortably distanced queue already forming at the door a little earlier than the 10 minute window indicated in the appointment confirmation email. Nevertheless, I joined the end of the queue, which was snaking down the full length of Robert Street.
Penneys staff welcomed every addition to the queue and checked names and reference numbers against a printed list and offered hand sanitiser to prevent a bottleneck inside the main doors of the store. I assume the 5pm shoppers finished early as a little after 5.50pm, the queue moved forward and we were ushered through the doors, with everyone being handed a basket at the door.
Inside, the shelves were neat and tidy (and full), there was plenty of space to move around without encroaching on someone else’s personal space and there were enough staff working the tills and shop floor that no one seemed overwhelmed. It was a comfortable, enjoyable experience and far from the frantic scenes I’d imagined.
It's worth keeping in mind that the changing rooms are unavailable so you'll have to guess your correct size, which in Penneys can vary wildly. An XXS top I bought is comfortably oversized, even though I am far from an XXS, but a size 10 pair of jeans that, by eye, I thought would be too big are just a little too tight to be comfortable, so those will be going back.
I later overheard a staff member telling their co-worker that at the start of every hour that day, the same thing happened: people entered through the doors and turned left, straight into a selection of t-shirts, co-ords and bodysuits.
In hindsight, I had noticed that area seemed busy compared to the rest of the store but when I passed that way again a few minutes later it was practically empty and the shelves and rails were still brimming with clothes.
Pro tip: move into the store and circle back later to that area if you want to avoid people.
Passing another staff member, I heard them mention that just three of the 100 people with appointments for that hour didn’t turn up, so it seems no-shows are quite low.
After breezing through each section of the store (Penneys homewares, how I’ve missed you), the only part that moved a little slowly was the tills, but that was understandable: everyone was buying more than just a few bits. After five months, people were stocking up on kids’ clothes, basics, socks and underwear, home essentials and, of course, a few treats for making it through a pandemic.
As I made my way back to the outside world, my mood was lifted by the positive experience and the jovial mood in-store among both staff and customers, There was no shoving, jostling, or discomfort throughout. When its doors are opened to the general public on Monday, it will be a much-needed return to normality, although to be honest, I’d welcome a regular appointment-only slot in the hour before the shop opens in normal times if it guarantees tidy shelves, plenty of space and less stress.
On my way back to the car, I spotted others carrying their shopping gleefully and meeting friends to compare purchases. Earlier that day on social media I saw people mentioning women approached them to congratulate them on getting an appointment after spotting them with a bag before oohing and ahhing over the shop’s latest offerings.
It’s safe to say that iconic Irish blessing will soon be uttered once more in the streets: Thanks, Penneys.
- To prepare for the return of general shopping, Penneys has announced extended opening hours from Monday. A spokesperson confirmed: "We'll have extended shopping hours in place in every store so there’ll be plenty of time for everyone to visit."