This is a headline you won’t see coming up on your newsfeed. How quickly we forget – despite grandiose plans1 to redevelop the site, Clery’s stands empty for the third Christmas. Whoever is responsible for the graphics in the windows obviously has no sense of the ironic! The windows blithely declare “Christmas Starts Here” and “Dublin at Christmas” whilst shoppers hurry past as you would whistle past a graveyard.
Clery’s long trading history
The doors of this historic building closed in June 2015, having first opened in 1853. It was completely destroyed during the 1916 Easter Rising and was rebuilt in 1922 to the edifice you see today. Mrs Mary Guiney, who died in 2004 aged 103, was a formidable woman. Even in her 90s, she fought to ensure that Clery’s carried on trading as one of Ireland’s best known shops and landmarks. This was the will of her late husband, Denis Guiney, and through her 52% controlling interest Mary ensured his wishes. She would be spinning in that big department store in the sky if she knew it had been closed for over 2 years.
There are also several historical connections. James Larkin, whose statue stands outside the shop, was arrested in 1913 as he spoke to a crowd from one of the building’s balconies. It gets a mention in Dublin’s literary landmark, James Joyce’s Ulysses. Gerty MacDowell, Joyce writes, bought her “slightly shopsoiled” ribbon in Clerys. 2
Aside from its historic and literary significance, Clery’s was the place where generations of Irish people shopped. At this time of year you could expect to see a queue of parents and children waiting outside to see Santa Claus.
Legal but is it moral?
As a result of restructuring in 2012 as part of a receivership process, the property assets were separated into one company, and the day-to-day retail business operation put in another. When this latter operating company went into liquidation, 460 staff lost their jobs. The workers received statutory redundancy paid by the state totalling €2.5m, despite many staff having decades of service. It is currently owned by a joint venture company.
Whilst this is all perfectly legal it is not moral or ethical. A landmark building in a landmark street stands empty. 460 people lost their jobs and Ireland was deprived of the “heartbeat”1 of O’Connell Street. I walked past it this week and its shutters and dark windows cast a gloom over that part of the city.
So my Bah Humbug moment is over for this year. Only a few more trading days to Christmas so make the most of them. My Christmas wish is that we see some more light and business activity on O’Connell Street by this time next year.
Happy Christmas and Happy Retailing!