Deserted Grafton Street

Grafton street, mentioned in songs by The Script, Nanci Griffith, Bagatelle and Dido, is one of two main principal shopping streets in Dublin. Kept alive, not only by the sounds of Buskers, but the hustle and bustle of shoppers and tourists alike.

The street was named after Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Grafton, the illegitimate son of King Charles II who owned land in the area. The street was developed from a then existing country lane by the Dawson family in 1708, after whom the parallel Dawson Street is named.

In 1815 the majority of buildings had been converted from residential to retail units and by the end of the century Grafton Street was the top commercial street in the city. The street catered for the high-end of the market with a variety of fashion stores, jewellers, watch and clock makers and high quality food and wine merchants.

In 1849 drapers Hugh Brown and James Thomas opened Brown Thomas which has grown into Dublin’s most prestigious Department Store and has become an integral part of Grafton Street

Bewley’s was not the only one to close their doors

It has been the home of Bewley’s Oriental Café, an institution in this area since its opening in 1927. Bewley’s on Grafton Street was a regular haunt for Irish literary greats such as James Joyce and Patrick Kavanagh, the café is mentioned in Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’.

Sadly, Bewley’s was not the only one to close their doors in recent times. House of Ireland, a tourist-focused giftware retail group with high-profile outlets in Dublin and Belfast, is shutting down, as damage from the coronavirus pandemic begins to take its toll on the struggling tourism and retail sectors. With other casualties such as Compu B, Cath Kidson, Monsoon, Urban Decay, Aldo, Korky’s, Ecco shoes and Topman following suit.

There are boarded up or vacant shops all over this area, and it isn’t just because of a lockdown.

Covid-19 has had its part to play in falling physical numbers

Covid-19 has had its part to play in falling physical numbers, but the effects of the pandemic have dramatically accelerated a trend of closures that started late last year. It may cause major future problems for some of the big property investment funds that own multiple properties on the street. Irish Life owns about a dozen properties on or close to Grafton Street, several of which now lie empty. It’s believed that more will follow.

The thirteenth most expensive main shopping street in the world

Being a prime area for shoppers and brands, in 2008, Grafton Street was the fifth most expensive main shopping street in the world, at €5,621/m²/year, and the thirteenth most expensive main shopping street in the world in 2016 at approx. €3,300/m²/year.

This area has seen a huge slump in weekend footfall, it’s still only 20% of pre-Covid-19 levels compared to 50% for Henry Street.

The Irish are the biggest international online shoppers in the world, spending €2.7 billion

David Fitzsimons, the previous chief executive of Retail Excellence, argued that commercial rents in areas such as Grafton Street aren’t yet reflecting structural shifts in the market, such as the shift to online shopping.

According to the Irish Retail and Consumer Report 2019 by PWC, 20% of Irish consumers shop online weekly or more often via their mobile devices.

The Irish are the biggest international online shoppers in the world, spending €2.7 billion at foreign-owned websites last year. With clothes or sports goods being the most popular online purchase in 2019, purchased by over half (51%) of internet users

With less high street retail presence, this new trend will continue to grow throughout 2020.  New online shopping habits will not be forgotten quickly, creating a knock-on effect into the physical visiting of retail outlets.

Pedestrianise streets around Grafton Street

Dublin City Council are now proposing to pedestrianise streets around Grafton Street to allow more pedestrians and businesses to use footpaths for tables and chairs, partly due to distancing measures.

They plan to partly pedestrianise the area between 11am and 7pm for four weekends from 25 July;

– Anne Street South from the junction of Dawson Street

– Duke Street from the junction of Dawson Street

– South William Street from the Brown Thomas car park exit to Chatham Row

– Drury Street from Fade Street to the Drury Street car park

– Dame Court from Exchequer Street

The changes were contained in an update to councillors on Covid Mobility measures which give extra priority and space to cyclists and pedestrians to allow for social distancing.

Previously, the pedestrianisation of Grafton Street was first trialed before in 1971, but prolonged delays meant that this wasn’t made permanent until 1983, and then repaved in 1988. Objections came from councillors and small business owners, who alleged that pedestrianisation would lead to an increase in petty crime and antisocial behaviour.

Deserted Grafton Street

Apart from the brands and the side street eateries, Grafton street was the home of Lillie’s Bordello, one of Dublin’s most iconic nightclubs. It closed its doors in January 2019, after more than 27 years in business.

The Grafton street club became famous for its popularity with both Irish and international celebrities, with Rihanna, Julia Roberts, Mick Jagger, Cillian Murphy, David Hasselhoff, Mel Gibson, Colin Farrell, Slash from Guns and Roses, Public Enemy, Enrique Iglesias, Sinead O’Connor, Van Morrison, Kiefer Sutherland among a few well-known names to set foot inside over the years.

Grafton street wasn’t just popular for its daytime shopping, it was also a night-time destination. From street performers to musicians, there has always been something for everyone as they stroll down this street.

Karl Ffrench
Karl Ffrench

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