Bags swung jauntily in lightly clenched fists as happy shoppers, most wearing masks, took to the streets to welcome non-essential retailers back into business.
Fluffy pyjamas, decorations and Christmas presents topped the list for most as the December spend, which Retail Ireland expects to match last year at €4.8bn, kicked off. For many retailers, it will be essential to stave off collapse after an enormously difficult year.
From early this morning, social media was flooded with images of long queues outside shops in Limerick and Dublin. And, although queues occasionally snaked around the block at Penneys on Patrick Street in Cork and outside other retailers, they moved quickly and a festive atmosphere buoyed people as they waited or dragged their hauls home.
Sharon Curtin and Phil Scannell had almost finished their shopping by 11am after getting into town early.
"I'm exhausted," Ms Scannell said with a smile as she put down her many 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."
Pam O'Regan of Saville's Menswear on Oliver Plunkett St said that the buzz has returned to Cork city.
"We're feeling absolutely ecstatic this morning to have the doors open and people back in the building," she said.
"People want to come into town again and have that human contact. People have been starved of it."
Throughout lockdown, Saville's customers supported them, ordering from as far away as Saudi Arabia via Zoom calls and the telephone.
'We're ecstatic to have people back in the building again, we want to hug everyone but we can't!' Saville Menswear's Pam O'Regan said that the Christmas spirit is palpable in Cork today as non-essential retail reopens #iestaff pic.twitter.com/ReP4Yrb27c— Liz Dunphy (@LizDunphy1) December 1, 2020
And this Christmas, Ms O'Regan has vowed to support local herself, buying all her Christmas gifts on Oliver Plunkett Street.
"People in Cork want to support Cork businesses. And people want that personal touch,” she said.
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.
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.
"Online shopping is okay but nothing beats being able to see and touch things."
'I'm happy to leave the house and see the clothes in person instead of on a computer screen': Joanne Dillon stopped to talk to the Irish Examiner as non-essential retail reopened in Cork city #iestaff pic.twitter.com/q96m9jiqlk— Liz Dunphy (@LizDunphy1) December 1, 2020
At Søstrene Grene on Patrick Street, manager Darren Meade said that 10 to 15 people were queuing before he opened the doors that morning.
In the suburbs, Douglas Shopping Centre, which was badly damaged in a fire in 2019, was also seeing enthusiastic business. The centre reopened in recent weeks and people returned immediately, manager Bartosz Miezsala said.
“It’s been absolutely great. The smiles on people’s faces, the well-wishes and support has been overwhelming and very rewarding.
“We’re busy and the shops are doing well.
“There have been queues outside TK Maxx since 9am."
Retail Ireland predicts that €4.8bn will be spent in retail this December - €1.2bn above an average months' spend and roughly the same as what was spent in December last year.
Arnold Dillon, director of Retail Ireland, said: "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."
Cork City Council is urging people to shop local this Christmas to help businesses pull through.
Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Joe Kavanagh said: “Christmas in Cork has always been a coming together of people. And this year as part of our ‘Thank Cork it’s Christmas’ campaign, we are encouraging the people of Cork to come together like never before to support our local retailers, craftspeople, arts and cultural centres and hospitality sector who have faced challenges that we couldn’t have anticipated this time last year.
"We all need you to think local first."