Christmas shopping begins in earnest as level 5 restrictions lifted

Retailers 'ecstatic' to have shoppers back in the building again: 'We'd love to hug everyone but we can't'
Christmas shopping begins in earnest as level 5 restrictions lifted

Time for a break after early morning shopping on Oliver Plunkett Street , Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

Happy shoppers quickly ticked off the items on their Christmas lists this morning in Cork city centre, largely unhindered by the long queues that were witnessed outside Penney's outlets in Limerick and Dublin from early morning.

Wendy Musgrove arrived into the city at 7am to drop a friend to the train station.

Encouraged by the lights on in Penneys, she headed back into town 30 minutes later.

"It's been brilliant. Hardly anyone was about," Ms Musgrove said.

"I got gifts and Christmas decorations for my in-laws who are in care homes. We haven't seen them for six weeks so it will be great to see them and bring gifts. I got stocking fillers for my daughter too.

"Having the shops closed was difficult. Seeing all the empty shops is a bit dispiriting.

Online shopping is OK but nothing beats being able to see and touch things.

"The pandemic has been a disaster for small business and for people's mental health."

At Søstrene Grene on Patrick Street, manager Darren Meade said that 10-15 people were queuing before he opened the doors this morning.

"A lot of people are coming to buy decorations. We're really happy to be open again. Hopefully everything will fly off the shelves," he said.

 Carol and Wallace, Douglas, Cork, make time for a cup of tea. Picture Dan Linehan

Carol and Wallace, Douglas, Cork, make time for a cup of tea. Picture Dan Linehan

Edel Salazar was leaving Penneys on route to Smyths toy store at the request of her son Logan when she stopped to talk.

"I thought Penneys would be jointed but it was great.

"There's great cheer about the place. Seeing everyone back and enjoying Christmas the Christmas spirit is really great. I'm delighted to be out again," she said.

Pam O'Regan, of Saville's Menswear on Oliver Plunkett Street, said they were feeling ecstatic to have the doors open and people back in the building.

"The buzz is back. We want to hug everyone but we can't," she said.

Although Ms O'Regan and her team were working "behind the scenes" over lockdown, she said that welcoming people back into the store has been "wonderful".

People want to come into town again and have that human contact. People have been starved of it.

But even during lockdown, Saville's customers supported them, ordering from as far away as Saudi Arabia via Zoom calls and the telephone.

And this Christmas, Ms O'Regan has vowed to support local herself, buying all her Christmas gifts on Oliver Plunkett street.

"Oliver Plunkett street has the most amazing atmosphere in the city. Casey's [furniture store] window has the most wonderful Christmas display that is really fun for children. People in Cork want to support Cork businesses.

"And people want that personal touch. We have customers ringing to come in when their favourite sales person is working. That's the magic of stores like ours. There's a very personal element and long-running friendships."

Sharon Curtin and Phil Scannell had almost finished their shopping by 11am after getting into town early.

"I'm exhasted," Ms Scannell said with a smile as she put down her multiple bags for a rest

"It's been great to see the buzz around town again. 

Two weeks ago it was like Armageddon in here the place was so empty.

Ms Curtin said: "I saw a video of Cork on Facebook recently, it was drone footage of the city centre. It showed all these lovely Christmas lights but there were no people. It's lovely to see people out on the streets again.

"We came in with a list so as not to have to face the madness later on. Everywhere's been very orderly and organised, it's just a pity that the restaurants aren't open yet," Ms Curtin said.

Laren McCabe and Emily Jordan also finished their Chritmas shopping before lunchtime after getting into the city from Mahon at 8.30am.

"I'm happy to have everything done now," Ms McCabe said.

"It's nice to have Christmas to look forward to now after everything that's happened this year."

Michael and Ann Mulcahy cut the ribbon as the first customers to Michael Guineys this morning.

They were given their pick of festive Santa Claus decorations for being the first customers back.

"Our grandson is 20 months old and he will be delighted with this," Mr Mulcahy said holding the almost life-size Santa.

"The children can't go to see Santa this year so having our very own Santa in the house will be wonderful for the grandkids," Mrs Mulcahy said.

"My mother's in a nursing home and the only pants she finds comfortable are from Michael Guineys so we got those to bring out to her and some decorations," Mr Mulcahy said.

 Early morning shoppers queue outside Brown Thomas on Patrick Street, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

Early morning shoppers queue outside Brown Thomas on Patrick Street, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

As well as non-essential retail shops, hair and beauty providers, gyms, and leisure centres opened back up today.

Cinemas, museums, and galleries have also reopened, but restaurants and pubs serving food remain closed until Friday.

Retail Ireland predicts that €4.8bn will be spent in retail this December — €1.2bn above an average month's spend.

Arnold Dillon, director of Retail Ireland, said he didn't believe that spending this month would be far below December 2019 levels.

"I don't expect a significant difference from last year. Spending at Christmas last year was about €1.2bn above a regular month's spend which is what we project for Christmas 2020," Mr Dillon said.

"That breaks down to about €700 per household.

"We're really hopeful that a lot of pent-up spending in the economy will be unlocked and directed into the retail sector.

A lot of retailers will be looking to Christmas to finance the losses endured during the rest of the year.

Another point of hope for retailers is cornering an increased share of online sales.

Some 70% of online sales usually leave the country but an increased effort by local businesses to increase their online offering and of shoppers to support local may change that figure this year, Mr Dillon

In order to comply with social-distancing guidelines, many retailers will remain open late tonight to facilitate shoppers.

Last night, Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan urged people not to rush out to shops and restaurants in the coming weeks, for fear of causing a surge in cases.

As the country begins to reopen, the country's leading medics have warned people to avoid busy locations to ensure they can enjoy greater levels of contact with their loved ones over the Christmas period.

Dr Holohan and his colleagues in Nphet said the level 5 measures had saved hundreds of lives and staved off potentially thousands of cases of the coronavirus, and that there was not an "inevitability" of a fresh spike in case numbers in the coming weeks if people adhere to public health guidelines.

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