'Surreal atmosphere' in Cork with shoppers knowing lockdown was imminent

Oliver Plunkett Street was unrecognisable from the Armageddon-like scenes witnessed there on Tuesday when torrents of dirty water gushed onto the street and closed businesses.
'Surreal atmosphere' in Cork with shoppers knowing lockdown was imminent

Cork shoppers queuing outside Penneys on  Patrick's St,  yesterday before the Level 5 lockdown comes into effect. Picture: Liz Dunphy

The sun shone down on happy shoppers as they queued patiently outside shops and hauled loaded bags home before Cork City shut down under Level 5 restrictions last night.

Oliver Plunkett Street was unrecognisable from the Armageddon-like scenes witnessed there on Tuesday when torrents of dirty water gushed onto the street and closed businesses.

Sarah Kenny and Ciara Lucey emerged from the exit at Penneys onto Oliver Plunkett Street after stocking up on "comfies" for lockdown and Christmas stocking fillers.

"Seeing the difference in Cork today is incredible," Sarah said. "Yesterday was so bleak. The streets were flooded and no one was around. But today there's a real buzz again."

She lamented the reality that from today, that buzz would be gone again from the city.

"The shops have been keeping up with all the rules: social distancing, hand sanitising, masks but they're being penalised now for other people having house parties, it doesn't seem fair. It's starting to feel like we're in prison," she said. 

Kathleen Staunton had travelled from Cobh for the last day of shopping with her son Evan.

"We just bought our Christmas pyjamas in Penneys," she said.

"We're trying to get our Christmas shopping done now just in case the shops don't reopen on time or in case the deliveries can't get in."

Shoppers filled the city today to enjoy the nice weather and get in some last-minute shopping as many fear the possibility of another lock down as Covid-19 cases Leeside rise.
Shoppers filled the city today to enjoy the nice weather and get in some last-minute shopping as many fear the possibility of another lock down as Covid-19 cases Leeside rise.

People sat chatting and people-watching at tables outside Orsos restaurant on Pembroke Street, soaking up the last few hours before lockdown bans those tables for weeks. The building survived Tuesday's devastating floods thanks to a floodgate installed at the entrance.

"Kegs were floating down the street here yesterday morning," said owner/manager Dee Munnelli.

"But the floodgate saved us. We'll stay open for the six weeks for takeaway. And I'm delighted to be doing that. I'm so thankful that we can. So many businesses have to close now, it's very hard. But we're going to keep the flag flying for the city and make sure there's some life on this street."

Some shops on Oliver Plunkett street remained shuttered after the floods, missing a vital last day of trading, traces of black flood waste still clinging to the doorways. 

Patrick Keane of Keane's jewelers said they were "chaotically" busy. 

"It's been busy since we opened the doors today," he said. "There's a surreal atmosphere around with people knowing that this lockdown is looming. Today is like a typical day coming up to Christmas, but we all know that from tomorrow morning on it's going to be shutters down, shops closed. It's a little bit depressing."

The six-week closure was a real shock he said after retailers had tried so hard to do everything right, carefully implementing every public health measure. 

"Our focus now has very much switched to our online store. We always anticipated this as a potential threat to the business so for the last few months, ever since Covid came along, we've been developing our online business as rapidly as we could. And the one thing we can take a little bit of comfort in is hearing how everyone has in their mind to shop locally, even when shopping online."

Christel Stansfeld bringing in Pinnochio from outside her toy shop in Paul Shop as the store closes for up to six weeks due to Level 5 lockdown. Picture: Howard Crowdy
Christel Stansfeld bringing in Pinnochio from outside her toy shop in Paul Shop as the store closes for up to six weeks due to Level 5 lockdown. Picture: Howard Crowdy

Cristel Stansfeld, owner of Pinocchio's toy shop on Paul Street, also had a busy day. 

"It's been manic today," she said. "We have a very nice, loyal customer base. 

"But a toy shop without Christmas is like a farmer losing his harvest. In November we do 20% of our yearly trade and in December we do 30%. So that's 50% of all our trade in these two months.

"We hope turnover from online sales will be enough to keep the shop going. This [lockdown] could kill us."

But Ms Stansfeld said the shop's busy summer may help them now, as many Irish tourists were introduced to her store, and she hopes they will remember them this Christmas.

"When Covid closed us last time, we still had about 40% of our turnover online. I don't think we could have survived without selling online. And we'll continue with it this time, we'll take phonecalls, texts, emails Facebook messages, and we'll still help people find the right presents."

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