Irish independents outside Dublin have told Drapers they fear for the future. Stores are closing “left, right and centre” across cities and towns as retailers struggle with high rents and business rates, and shoppers tighten their purse-strings.
“Towns that once thrived with boutiques are seeing multiple closures”, said Rachel Benson, owner of womenswear independent Glowing Girlies in Limerick City.
“Stores are closing left, right and centre in the area, including a very big footwear independent called Serendipity. It had a store in Roches Street [in Limerick] and one in the village of Adare, and they both closed down more or less overnight. Everyone in the area was completely shocked.”
Serendipity announced its store closures on 26 March.
“Stores are closing because the rates in the area are so high. The rates are completely killing us,” she added.
Colette O’Connor, owner of plus-size women’s and men’s clothing stores Curvy Lady and Mr Big Man in Cork, said: “Retail has been very challenging over the past five years, with many closures on a weekly basis.
“This is because of many factors, but exorbitant rents and rates are to the forefront. This, combined with high cost of living and moderate wages, makes retail difficult in the republic.
“The closures are always a worry for independent traders who are fighting for survival.”
O’Connor, who opened her stores as Ireland was recovering from recession, added: “Dublin is well served with good roads, adequate public transport and a high population. This unfortunately is not the case for the south of Ireland, where we have poor roads, very poor public transport and traffic at constant standstill because of gridlock.
For retailers close to the border, with Northern Ireland uncertainty continued Brexit uncertainty is another challenge.
“Brexit also has a massive impact because we are a border town,” said one womenswear in Dundalk. “The weak pound can be challenging for us as we depend on cross-border business. It is very worrying here – people aren’t spending the way they used to. A lot of stores have closed in the past 18 months.”
Stella McGroarty, owner of women’s independent Stella in Donegal, agreed: “The number of shops closing is worrying, and of course the big, bad B word doesn’t help.”
Meanwhile, Michelle Ahern, owner of childrenswear independent Muiri K Boutique in Dungarvan, County Waterford, believes online shopping is the biggest cause for concern: “Two women’s boutiques closed at Christmas, and it terrified me. I feel that the biggest reason for the closure of shops is because of online buying. Customers don’t realise the damage they’re doing to their local community by shopping online. Businesses outside the capital are struggling.”
Thomas Burke, director of industry body Retail Ireland, told Drapers: “Ireland is experiencing a period of strong growth in economy activity at present. However, this growth is not as strong outside the major urban centres.
“There are several factors that are influencing this lag outside Dublin and the major urban centres, but chief among them are high costs of insurance and local authority rates burden.”
He added: “In the current climate, it is impossible to speak about the state of retail without mentioning Brexit. The uncertainty that surrounds Brexit is leading to a softening of consumer confidence in Ireland, and this is having a knock-on effect to retail sales in [rural regions] most particularly. Agriculture drives the local economy here, and this sector is one of the most impacted by Brexit, so consumers are increasingly cautious in how they are spending their disposable incomes.”
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