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End Amazon’s reign go shop on Henry Street

End Amazon’s reign go shop on Henry Street

End Amazon’s reign go shop on Henry Street

It is an image in jarring­conflict with all those sadly shuttered shops on Ireland's desolate main streets.

Not only will Jeff Bezos shortly take delivery of a $500m, 417ft super yacht, a hulking creature of the seas similar in dimensions to the Great Pyramid of Giza, it will be dutifully shadowed around the world by a second luxury vessel on which the Amazon founder can land his helicopter.

Because his floating palace (for an idea of scale: aircraft carrier meets Croke Park) could not support both a helipad and the three sailing masts Bezos insisted upon, the world's richest man added a little brother to his maritime family.

"Little" is a relative term, in the way the Matterhorn, 14,692 feet of sky-kissing Alpine real estate, might be described as Lilliputian in comparison with Everest.

Craft number two will be of sufficient size to carry speed boats, luxury cars and, maybe, a submarine in its belly.

It is not known if it will include a cemetery for all those lifeless and mummified towns of Ireland which perished in its creation.

The growing number of stores in a long sleep, padlocked, abandoned, and in too many cases, unlikely to ever again trade, are the collateral damage in this orgy of ostentation.

Our towns and cities are wheezing and flatlining, torpedoed into submission by omnipotent, insatiable Amazon.

In the war with the online leviathans, those bricks and mortar boutiques that for centuries have lent the places we live character and personality, are carrying blunt spears. Even Dublin's once mighty Henry Street is wobbling like an old prizefighter who has taken one punch too many.

Richard Guiney, CEO of Dublin Town, makes little attempt to conceal the scale of the horror.

Post-lockdown, Guiney estimates 31% of the storied street's stores will be ­vacant. He fears the void of activity ­poses an ­existential threat to the Northside ­shopping avenue where Arnotts was born, raised and grew to splendid old age.

To even permit such a possibility seems grotesque.

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How many Christmas childhoods were made magical by the amber glow of ­Yuletide lights, the chorus of carol singers and the swell of happy humanity parading down Grafton Street or Patrick Street or Shop Street?

These are more, far more, than centres of commerce. It is on those bustling, ­animated streets we locate a city's soul, its charm, its glorious essence.

They are meeting places and for so many people an urgently required vaccine against solitude, a place where otherwise lonely people can feel the warm embrace of humankind.

For years, my own mother - armed with the bus pass that was to her as priceless as one of Willy Wonka's golden tickets - would traipse into Dublin's central arteries. It was like a comforting religious ceremony, a browsing equivalent to the stations of the cross: From Marks & Spencer to Penneys to Arnotts, bowing as she passed her sadly fallen old friends, Roches Stores and Switzers.

She might stop for a cream cake and a cuppa at Ann's ­Bakery on Mary Street, the afternoon brightened by people watching and some randomly struck conversation.

And suddenly the day would not seem so empty or long.

Of course, there are many reasons why our shopping streets are on the backfoot.

Out-of-town retail, the shamefully exorbitant rents demanded by voracious institutional landlords, absurdly bureaucratic council regulations and Covid-19's emptying of office blocks all undermine the old aura.

But the online titans are, effectively, the bailiffs evicting so many from their stores.

Without footfall, the heartbeat of more and more shops is stilled; without shoppers, the cafes and pubs and restaurants and hairdressers are denied critical mass.And as the energy seeps from town centres, they become less attractive to tourists, jobs are lost, these social hubs further contract, the whole deck of cards collapses.

It a terrifying and depressing and ­avoidable prospect. Every time we click to purchase a pair of trainers or headphones or a book on Amazon we contribute to this slow, relentless hollowing out of our towns.

Enslaved by convenience we are in danger of stripping the thing of beauty that is a healthy, radiant Main Street glow.

It doesn't have to be like this.

In the glow of society's reopening, it was wonderful to see long, excited queues stretch almost to the horizon outside the miracle of endurance that is Penneys.

For all that parvenu idiots may wrinkle their noses at the low-price marvel, here is a company leading the daunting task of reclamation.At the other end of the scale, noble, dignified Brown Thomas stands stately and defiant on Grafton Street; at its northern shoulder, its proud and classical and equally prospering sibling, Weir's gleams like the jewels within.

The buildings they occupy are as ancient and wondrous as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Into their floorboards, the footprints and stories of generations of Irish shoppers are singed. These are castles worth fighting for.

In the coming weeks, pubs and restaurants will awaken, in urgent need of something more than token words.

So here's an idea.

The next time you need a new pair of jeans or a coat or a nice shirt, leave the computer switched off, don't reach for the Amazon app on your phone.

Instead, jump on a bus or a train and reassert the timeless values of hitting the town for a day of shopping, maybe stopping for a bite to eat or a haircut or a pint of something cold and refreshing.

Bezos and his yacht may lord it on the the high seas, but without the buoyancy each of us can offer, our cities and towns will sink.

And all that remains will be a bleak ocean of despair.

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