From the Sunday Independent 26-11-06
Classy facades overshadowed by tat
Sunday November 26th 2006
IT'S still elegant, but like that glitzy cocktail dress that has been out on the tiles too many times, Grafton Street is looking a little shabby, careworn and missing a few sequins.
In these final days of November, Ireland's premier shopping street should be at its best, adorned in festive finery and thronged with happy shoppers buying the first of their Christmas gifts.
The decorations are up, but the short stroll from Stephen's Green to Westmoreland Street reveals that the most valuable real estate in the country has become bleak and a little tatty.
It's not helped by a litter bin at the Stephen's Green end so brimmed with free sheets, coffee cups and other detritus of the streets that a passing drunk had no option but to leave the empty bottle of cheap vodka beside, but not in, the black bin.
It is at this end of Grafton Street that the problems identified by the city council are most clearly evident. There are too many telephone shops, too many convenience stores and low-end souvenir shops.
In quick succession the street that should be heaven has the garish procession of ugly retail units - the nightclub blue O2 telephone store, the Londis supermarket with its free-standing street displays of dated postcards, and the Vodafone shop painted in-your-face Manchester United red. On the opposite side of the street, the Camera Centre advertises its wares in a Texan-sized font. Understated it is not.
It's a depressing start, but there is a little relief further on. Zerep, Richard Allen and Sisley are coolly contemporary and pleasing to the eye, though the Laura Ashley shop - with its magnolia facade - is grubby.
Dunnes Stores on Grafton Street is admittedly a very small outlet of this wealthy supermarket giant in terms of square feet of retail space, but it is surprising that Margaret Heffernan would allow one of her stores to look so shabby.
It looks as though the painters were in, completed the undercoat and were called away to another job - never to return.
The litter bins in the rest of Grafton Street have all been emptied and the ochre paving is clean and litter-free.
There are other shops which deserve their spot on Grafton Street. Jigsaw, Miss Selfridge, Champion Sports - and even Burger King - with low-key signage, pass muster.
Monsoon is a mid-market fashion shop, but its rich gold and mulberry makeover looks classy and the window dressers have done an outstanding job with their festive display. But Monsoon abuts the hideous HMV store dressed in a pink livery not seen in nature. It's all rather depressing.
What is strange is that the financial services stores that dot the street are the worst. The Permanent TSB building at the junction of Harry Street is a concrete bunker of unrelenting squalor.
About 80,000 people walk up Grafton Street every day. It is shocking that some of the wealthiest institutions in the country don't put their best foot forward.
There are four nice shops in a row: Boodles, Karen Millen, Rocks and Peter Marks. All combine elegance with a contemporary feel. The old stonework of the block is showcased to good effect.
Opposite, there is yet another phone shop. The Carphone Warehouse store looks as though it should be stuck in the backlands of an industrial estate off the Naas Road. It isn't particularly ugly, just inappropriate in the middle of this pedestrian boulevard.
When it first opened, designer label shrine BT2 had a certain urban chic - but it has dated badly. It looks half-finished rather than cutting edge these days.
Bewley's is still beautiful, but the great old lady of Grafton Street looks out on yet another phone shop - this time Meteor.
Ernest Jones is a new jewellery outlet on Grafton Street, specialising in diamonds and watches. It has an elegant, stylish but very British shopfront which does not sit well on the street. The large coat of arms adornment 'Bewley's is still beautiful, but the great old lady of Grafton Street looks out on yet another phone shop - this time Meteor'
might be more appropriate on Winchester High Street rather than the heart of ould Dublin.
The dark green Body Shop store, like the brand itself, has relaxed into comfortable middle age. It's reminiscent of looking through old albums at a car boot sale and finding an LP cover which, by its typeface alone, immediately catapults one back to house party in the early Seventies.
Marks & Spencer is a fine store, elegant clean and inviting, but just along the street there is, yes that's right, yet another phone shop - O2 Experience.
Brown Thomas is a beacon of classy elegance, with a rather arty but beautiful window display on a carnival/circus theme, but on the opposite side of the street the Grafton Arcade is shuttered up and could definitely do with being power-hosed.
The street peters out with a row of inoffensive but uninspiring shops. An exception is River Island. This is a fine shop front with a monochrome theme that is spare and bright.
The worst by far is the AIB Service Centre - it's dirty looking and does the financial services giant no favours. There is one more phone store - Vodafone again - and the final shop as you exit Grafton Street is the Mortgage Store. This is another financial services provider reluctant to speculate some of its profits on dressing up its real estate on the best pitch in Dublin. It's bewildering, and sad.
© Irish Independent