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THESE shock pictures of rundown Grafton Street are final proof that the Celtic Tiger is dead.

Once Ireland's most exclusive shopping street, the street is now full of boarded-up shops, For Sale and To Let signs, peeling paint and temporary discount stores.

James Joyce once described the exclusive stretch of Dublin as having "the wealth of the world" on display.

But sadly not now, with even Dunnes Stores' flagship shop shutdown.

Just last autumn it was ranked as the fourth most expensive street in Europe, and the fifth most expensive worldwide, for retail rents.

But even as those rents have continued to climb upwards, retailer profits have been collapsing due to the recession.

Some shopowners in the Grafton Street area reported a 30 per cent collapse in sales during the crucial Christmas period last December, and others are reporting a 40 per cent fall in sales for this year, despite slashing prices on entire ranges of goods.

And now, many retailers are simply shutting up shop rather than paying further increases.

Even retail giant Marks and Spencer wants to sell-off part of its part of their flagship store on the street. The prominent shop was recently refurbished at a cost of millions by the British-based retailer after buying the premises from Brown Thomas, which moved across the street into Switzers old premises.

But now it is trying to sell off the unit, which was former Grafton Street Arcade, that it leases to US fashion chain Tommy Hilfiger.

An M& S spokesman sadi: "We're definitely not looking to sell off the Grafton Street shop. But we are looking to sell the Hilfiger unit."

The firm is thought to be asking for EUR25million for the unit, which was valued at more than EUR60 million only a couple of years ago.

Dublin City Councillor and former Lord Mayor Michael Conaghan said there are fears the street is "going to the dogs".

Now Dublin City Council is putting together an emergency plan to save the place before it gets any worse.

Labour Cllr Conaghan, who was behind the campagin to save the famous Bewley's Coffee shop, said:

"Certainly there is concern about the state of Grafton Street. The city council is concerned. Some of us will be meeting with the current Lord Mayor and the traders in September to see what measures we can take to improve things.

"A plan is being developed to upgrade the street furniture, signage and lighting.

"The least we can do is make it presentable. Grafton Street is symbolic of what we think of as the best side of Dublin.

"Its current state sends out the wrong message about the city. We don't want the street going to the dogs."

Many retail tenants are locked into leases of 25 years or more, often without a break clause or a way to review the rent downwards.

And property owners, some of whom have suffered losses in other investments, are resistant to reducing the rents.

The result is a growing wasteland of "To Let" and "For Sale" signs, boarded up shopfronts and temporary outlets selling cheap wears and tourist items.

There are currently six empty storefronts on Grafton Street, including the former Dunne Stores flagship store that the retailer displays on its brown reuseable carrier bags.

And the surrounding streets are faring little better, with empty storefronts prominent in Dawson Street, the St Stephen's Green shopping centre and most of the side-streets.

The Grafton Street Tenants' Association recently wrote to Justice Minister Dermot Ahern after he brought in legislation to stop upward-only rent reviews.

The Association told him: "The street has already been debased and degraded by vacant shops and a proliferation of auctioneers' boards.

"This scenario will be repeated in all major and minor shopping centres and main streets around the country," they warned.

On Grafton Street itself, shoppers spoke of their disappointment last week at the slow erosion of the retail business in Dublin's city centre.

"I've noticed all the 'To Let' signs," said tourist Jim Steenson from Florida.

"It's the same or worse than at home, and we've had it hard in the recession. We had heard how bad things were here, so we were expecting it.

"Things are much more expensive here, even the stuff on sale. We're on a cruise ship, and we've just come from Belfast and we're heading to Waterford. It was a lot cheaper in Belfast, but it is livelier in Dublin."

And Dubliner Dominic O'Reilly said: "It's a disaster round here, isn't it? It was never this bad in the Seventies or Eighties.

"Grafton Street has lost its old sparkle and become a bit honky-tonk now, which is a shame."

And things could get a lot worse in the near future. Many rents are paid quarterly, and are due this month. It is feared that more retailers could simply hand back the keys to their landlords and close.

RENTS (per sq metre) in top European shopping areas

DUBLIN (Grafton Street): EUR4,800*

DUBLIN (Henry Street): EUR3,763

LONDON (West End): EUR5,382

AMSTERDAM (Hoofstraat): EUR2,400

BRUSSELS (Avenue Louise): EUR1,625

COPENHAGEN (Stroget): EUR2,349

FRANKFURT: (Die Zeil): EUR2,880

MADRID (Calle Serrano): EUR2,880

MILAN (V. Montenapoleche): EUR6,800

PARIS (Champs Elyses): EUR10,500

NEW YORK (Fifth Avenue): EUR12,612


ANNUAL SPEND (value of goods bought each year in European city centres)

LONDON (West End): EUR6.2bn

PARIS: EUR5.9 billion

ROME: EUR5.8 billion

MADRID: EUR5.4 billion

MANCHESTER: EUR2.4 billion

DUBLIN: EUR2.34 billion


Dismal sight... empty retail units in once-flourishing Grafton Street and (inset) shoppers on a spree Shopping hub? . Baffled tourists take pics in deserted Grafton Street Very New Age... But it's another Grafton Street casualty Sign of good cheer... And that is all it is - a sign Baffled tourists Shopping hub? take pics in deserted Grafton Street One place defies the recession... and still has room for more customers Concerned... Michael Conaghan
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:Jul 26, 2009
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