Festive buzz | 

Christmas shoppers out in force but shadow of Omicron felt by retailers

There was a festive buzz in the air on Grafton Street which was packed with shoppers
Christmas shoppers on Dublin's Grafton Street. Photo: Arthur Carron

Christmas shoppers on Dublin's Grafton Street. Photo: Arthur Carron

Paul Hyland

With new Covid-19 restrictions coming into force at midnight tonight, Christmas shoppers were out in force in Dublin city centre this afternoon to ensure their lists are crossed off.

There was a festive buzz in the air on Grafton Street which was packed with shoppers.

With limits on numbers allowed inside, there were queues outside several shops, including the Nespresso outline on South Anne Street.

Pubs and cafes were also busy and, despite the chill in the air, the parklets outside most business also were quite full.

South William Street - well known for outdoor socialising - was a hive of activity, with pubs like Grogans Castle Long hopping, as was the outdoor area at the Bailey on Duke Street.

Like any other Christmas weekend, a large semi-circle formed as a young busker serenaded scores of shoppers with the Mariah Carey hit All I Want for Christmas is You.

With almost 12,500 new cases of Covid-19 reported this weekend, and the growing threat posed by the more transmissible Omicron variant, one thing that was noticeable was the number of people wearing facemasks while walking along the busy streets.

Nicole Fallon, originally from Ranelagh but living in Co Wicklow, was shopping near St Stephen’s Green with her daughters, Juno and Olive. She felt a lot of people made the trip into town to get their final shopping done before the big day.

“It’s busy and I don’t know, I think people are just focused on getting the job done and getting their shopping done. I’m not seeing people pull back and trying to social distance much. I guess people are more focused on other things, but I guess it’s (Covid) in the background.”

She said it was “very busy” in the shops they visited today but she “expected it to be much, much busier”.

She said she and her family are looking forward to making the most of this Christmas, but the pandemic is becoming tiresome.

“I think everybody is getting a bit sick of it now. So, I think it’s a feeling of here we go again. We’re on the roundabout again and is it just going to stop or keep going and going around in circles,” she added.

However, there were mixed views among traders on Grafton Street as to whether it was busy or not.

A doorman at one store said it was busier than other years, while a flower-seller said the opposite and that it was “much quieter”.

The flower-seller, who did not want to give her name, blamed the Government for how “quiet” it was and accused it of “scaremongering”.

“My sister is out in Deansgrange and she can get into town in about 15 minutes because that’s how quiet it is. People just aren’t coming in anymore,” she added.

Monday is another difficult day for the hospitality sector, as all bars, restaurants and live music venues must close by 8pm from tomorrow evening and each evening until the end of January.

The curfew, announced on Friday, was met with anger and frustration by publicans, restaurateurs, event organisers and performers. It also came ahead of what would normally be a bumper week for the sector.

Eoin Bulfin, manager of the Hairy Lemon pub on Stephen’s Street Lower, said the announcement on Friday could not have come at worse time from a business point of view as Christmas week is normally one of their busiest all year.

“It’s been busy today. There’s very much a sense around that people are getting the last few bits. We would get a lot of trade from people who come in when shopping and a lot of next week would usually be people who have just finished shopping or finished work.

“The problem with the 8pm curfew is we don’t know if people will call into us earlier or just go straight home. So it’s a very uncertain situation again.”

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