‘We didn’t do the click-and-collect or the appointments. We just waited patiently for the doors to open fully today’
While click-and-collect and shop-by-appointment facilities opened last week, there were early morning queues at some shops in anticipation of the doors swinging open for what many have been craving for months - a regular shopping experience.
While social distancing, hand sanitising, and face masks are still part and parcel of everyday life, there was a sense of relief in the air. A sense that things are going in the right direction.
Although parts of Grafton Street and Henry Street were still quiet this morning, there was an expected queue outside everyone’s beloved Penneys.
Two teenage girls had queued at Penneys on Mary Street in Dublin from 5am, mainly because they thought there was going to be a huge queue.
But they found themselves first in line.
“At least it’s not raining!” they said with a laugh.
Behind them were sisters Louise (20) and Aisling (27) Furey.
“We’ve been here since 6.30am. We got a taxi in from Raheny. We actually thought there’d be a big queue but it wasn’t bad at all,” said Aisling as she waited for the doors to open.
“We’re dying to get in. We haven’t been in Penneys since before Christmas, and normally we’d be in a couple of times a week,” said Louise.
The doors of the store opened at 7.30am, and the massive shop quickly absorbed the queue.
Jacqueline Boyle and pal Jayne Eyre, both 26, were pleasantly pleased at getting into the shop after about ten minutes in the queue.
“We didn’t do the click-and-collect or the appointments. We just waited patiently for the doors to open fully today. I’ve lots of stuff to get,” said Jacqueline, from nearby Summerhill.
“I’m looking for everything from clothes to bedding.”
Jayne, also from Summerhill, had all the essentials to buy. But in a sign of optimism she had also bagged a few bikinis.
“I’ve no holiday planned, but you have to hope. You’d never know, I might get away somewhere if things keep improving,” she told Independent.ie.
For 85-year-old Maggie Trimble the opening of Penneys couldn’t happen sooner.
“I can’t even play a video, never mind shop online,” she joked.
“I was last in here before Christmas and I usually come in every Wednesday. It’s great to be back,” she said.
“The staff in here are brilliant. They help me out when I can’t get around too well, and ask me what I want and go and get it for me. I’ve missed them.
“I’ve had both my jabs and now I’m ready to go. I’m hoping to open my old folks club in Kilbarrack again tomorrow. I started it 28 years ago and I can’t wait to get it going again,” she added.
A Penneys spokeswoman said Womenswear, Spring/Summer trends, and beauty ranges have all been snapped up since shopping by appointment opened, with 275,000 bookings in total.
There will be extended opening hours across all 36 stores to help manage customer demand. “Going out is the new staying in it seems. Ireland is getting ready to get dressed up again as restrictions begin to ease,” the spokeswoman said.
“Hopefully we’re open for good now. Womenswear is proving very popular with seasonal trends, such as summer floral dresses and gingham two-pieces all being snapped up. Beauty is also back, with false lashes and nails being two big items in peoples’ baskets,” she added.
Meanwhile, retailers in Cork heaved a sigh of relief as they celebrated opening their doors for call-in business after the latest easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
For some, it was a very emotional day after the toughest year endured by Irish retail in living memory.
Vicky Creber at Itso Me Boutique in Douglas, Cork said just being able to personally greet customers again was a dream come true.
"I couldn't wait to fully reopen - we have been open now for just one month in the last 20 months," she said.
Vicky's boutique wasn't just hit by the Covid-19 pandemic but by the fall-out to a disastrous fire at the car park of the Douglas Village Shopping Centre which forced the closure of part of the complex for over a year.
The fire - triggered by a vehicle blaze - caused €30m worth of damage with parts of the car park and shopping centre having to be demolished and rebuilt.
"It is so important for us to finally get back to business, get our doors open and get back to looking after our customers," Vicky said.
"The critical thing now is to be able to stay open and not to have any more shutdowns."
Tom Murphy of Murphy's Menswear on St Patrick Street said it was more important than ever for people to shop local.
"Retail is changing and local traders need people to spend their Euros locally if they are to continue to play a vibrant role in the business life of our cities and towns."
For some, shops and customers have been apart for far too long.
Waterstones manager, Tim Clarke, revealed that 700 books have been published since the bookstore closed as part of the last Level Five shutdown.
"On a busy day with families and shoppers in here, it is hard to beat the atmosphere - so it is good to be getting back to that," he said.
"We have been working our way through the books published since the last shutdown as well as our deliveries, unpacking, sorting and trying to offer our customers something fresh."
Diana O'Mahony, who operates a city centre jewellers, said online sales have helped many retailers but it just cannot replace call-in sales and the personal shopping experience.
"It has helped throughout lockdown but it is not the same. Online is definitely a part of the future for Irish retail - I don't think there is a future without it - but online alone won't work for the vast majority of retailers."
John Horgan of O'Leary's Camera World said it has been a very long wait to reopen for retailers.
"We have a very loyal customer base - a lot of retailers around here have the same - and we will be hoping that people listen to the 'shop local' message."
Around 280,000 retail employees will have returned to work today as the latest easing of Covid restrictions become a reality.