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COMMENT: City centre needs to up its game

Monday, 23rd October, 2017 7:59am

Story by Tony McCullagh
COMMENT: City centre needs to up its game

You can’t beat the atmosphere of Dublin city centre - but it can be a pricey day out.

COMMENT: City centre needs to up its game

You can’t beat the atmosphere of Dublin city centre - but it can be a pricey day out.

THE next eight weeks or so are vital for retail businesses as the Christmas shopping splurge gets underway in earnest. Not only are our shops competing with each other but - like every other sector - they have to fight off the commercial threat posed by online stores.

This is all the more reason for traditional businesses to up their game, particularly in the city centre, if they want to prevent the further migration of customers to large retail parks and shopping centres in the suburbs.

There was a time when the city centre was the only show in town when it came to Christmas shopping, with expeditions to Clerys, Boyers, Switzers or McBirney & Co as much a part of the festive season as Santa himself.

Sadly, all of these iconic institutions have since been lost to Dublin and our streets now resemble any city in the UK when it comes to the retail landscape.

Dublin city centre is becoming an increasingly inhospitable place for motorists thanks to road restrictions. And while public transport improvements such as the Luas Cross City project are to be welcomed, much more needs to be done to incentivise us to leave our cars at home.

The reality is that people often need to bring their cars into town if they are doing their main Christmas shopping as there is only so much they can carry on a train, tram or bus. But a recent Saturday afternoon trip into the city cost me an extortionate €20 in parking - and that’s on top of the fuel I wasted sitting in long tailbacks.

Even the public transport option wouldn’t have been much cheaper for me when I factored in park & ride costs and the price of a return rail ticket for the family.

While in the city, we had entertained the notion of treating ourselves to afternoon tea in a well-known hotel until we were told it would be €50 a head. We made our excuses and left, settling for a burger in Eddie Rocket’s instead.

And even though I love the atmosphere of Dublin city at this time of year, there is only so much I am willing to pay for the privilege.

In my view, more needs to be done to make the city an attractive proposition for shoppers. This could take the form of free on-street parking every weekend and subsidised rates at official shopping centre car parks in Dublin city. Parking at train stations should also be free every weekend in the run up to Christmas.

Ultimately, shoppers will vote with their feet and opt for cheaper alternatives in the suburbs where they can find the same choice of shops without having to brave the elements or be hit by excessive car parking charges.

Unless the cost of doing business in the city centre is brought down, there is a real risk that we will see further high-profile casualties in the retail sector.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. With its Christmas lights and street entertainment, it’s hard to beat the city for a bit of festive cheer. Since the recession, however, we have become more cost-conscious as a nation and are less inclined to allow ourselves to be ripped off.

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