Despite deep concerns over the rise of retail vacancy rates on Cork City’s St Patrick’s Street — where the latest to depart this year will be AIB at No 26 — a letting deal to a ‘traditional’ retailer in the centre of the street (opposite the newly up to let former Clarks shoe shop) is a rare chink of light amid the gloom.
Set to move into 83-85 St Patrick’s Street is menswear specialist Suit Direct. This redeveloped retail space is at the corner of ‘Pana’ with Careys Lane.
It has been fitted out internally since the deal was inked in December, ready to open its doors once pandemic retail restrictions lift.
It’s the first Cork city centre shop occupancy deal of any note since Covid-19 knocked an already-struggling retail sector off its feet in 2020, and after vacancy rates on this prime retail ‘boulevard' headed to 20% at the end of Q3 (Lisney report, see below).
The corner unit at 83-85, created by Davy Real Estate after the amalgamation of three smaller units (including Gloria Jeans and Body Shop), had only been occupied in 2018 by fashion house Vila, selected Homme and Selected Femme, retailing over two levels with 1,400 sq ft (130 sq m) on each.
It’s now been let to UK-based Suit Direct by agent Savills, on an undisclosed flat rent, but likely to be 30% down on previous rent levels, and the agents had been seeking c€230,000 a year.
Suit Direct had previously traded as a concession within the monolith 150,000 sq ft Debenhams (previously Roches Stores) on St Patrick's Street. Debenhams controversially closed its Irish operation last year, with significant job losses.
Suit Direct also traded in Debenhams at Mahon Point and is opening a standalone store there also, says estate agent Peter O’Meara, a director with Savills in Cork.
Mr O’Meara said there had been some element of competition for nos 83-85, which is in a mid-section of the street between the larger stores at the Debenhams/Penneys end and the typically smaller ones at the western/Capitol end, anchored by Lifestyle Sports.
He said this new letting was a positive move in the current pandemic and indicated that other retailers in the hunt for Irish and Cork physical footprints were the likes of teen apparel seller American Eagle (currently repositioning with a new offer, Aerie) and sports, athletic wear and shoe brand Asics.
Asics was traditionally known as a shoe brand: might it slip into something ‘comfortable’ across St Patrick's Street? No 45-46 is available and is situated between Game Stop and Holland & Barrett. It is also close to the Princes Street entrance to the English Market by Fatface.
The former Clarks store now joins the long list of ‘to let’ offers via agents Cearbhall Behan and Anthony Quinlan of Behan Irwin & Gosling/Downing Commercial.
Dating to 1925, deep and four-storey with 4,000 sq ft in all with part-bow-fronted slate frontage, it has a retail area of 1,827 sq ft at ground and first floor, with lift/stair access. Rent sought is around €130,000 a year.
According to Savills’ Peter O’Meara, future trends in lettings will be shorter leases, shorter break options and a continuing shift to the European model of base rent plus a percentage of turnover. While that’s already in train in a number of recent deals, it wasn't in the case of 83-85 with owners Davy.
The same agents also have the former Evans/Dorothy Perkins building at 101 St Patrick’s Street to let by assignment, between Gentleman's Quarters and the redeveloped Dunnes flagship store. It is also joint agent in the short-term letting with Lisney Cork of No 32-33, the former Jack & Jones (once Mangans) outlet, in a classical limestone building on the southern side of the street.
The Jack & Jones building has almost 6,000 sq ft, with 1,150 sq ft at ground, and forms part of the major city block assembled over the past decade by Penneys from a major redevelopment.
It’s understood Penneys may seek planning permission later this year for its long-awaited redevelopment, which is likely to include a number of smaller, standalone units at the perimeter in line with planners’ wishes.
Despite its desire for a very significant physical presence in Cork City’s retail core (it is also a significant trader in Wilton and may look at Mahon Point), Penneys is not in the wings to take up the Debenhams store close-by on Pana, having spent tens of millions of euros on its site assembly.
Meanwhile, among other significant changes on and just off St Patrick's Street will be the 2021 offer of the space over four levels on Cork’s Opera Lane, being vacated by Top Shop, which is now in receivership.
Currently, just one other unit on Opera Lane is vacant, with major traders there including River Island, H&M, Next, Gap and Therapie.
Finally, many AIB customers in Cork City got letters this week heralding the anticipated closure this year of the bank’s branch at 26 St Patrick’s Street, adjacent to Penneys and linking to Winthrop Street opposite McDonalds, with accounts being moved to 66 South Mall.
The most recent ‘shutter count’ by Lisney’s Cork office at the end of Q3 showed 16 of St Patrick’s Street’s 82 shops vacant, a rate of 19.51%.
That compares to 17.09% for Oliver Plunkett Street, 15.38% for side streets off St Patrick’s Street and 16.67% for the Grand Parade.
Where the figures will be by Q4 2021 is anyone’s guess.