Uptown and downtown
Edenderry in Co Offaly has one of the highest proportion of empty business units in the country, while Greystones in Co Wicklow has the lowest. Why does one town thrive while another suffers?
The incomplete Edenderry Plaza Hotel, Co Offaly. Photograph: James Flynn/APX
Vacant properties in Edenderry, Co Offaly. Photograph: James Flynn/APX
Aidas Eidukevicius and Ilona Eidukeviciene in their newly opened cafe and bakery, Sweet Moment, in Edenderry, Co Offaly. Photograph: James Flynn/APX
John Brady, the owner of Spar Post Office in Edenderry, Co Offaly. Photograph: James Flynn/APX
Caroline Gray and her son Robert at their new business, Cafe Gray, in Greystones, Co Wicklow
The main street in Greystones, Co Wicklow, looking north towards Bray Head. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
The Happy Pear shop and restaurant in Greystones, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Cowen’s former running mate and ex-county council chairman, Gerard Killally, had begun to build a hotel in the town before he went bankrupt to the tune of €10 million. Killally was later given a suspended sentence for stealing from the court official assigned to manage his bankruptcy, and the hotel is now an abstract sculpture of concrete and steel pointing to the sky and surrounded by hoarding that warns, too late, of danger.
Edenderry once had one of the country’s widest market streets, large enough to corral cattle in. It is now a strangled cobble-locked artery lined with paid parking places. Elderly people and mothers with young children say it is too awkward to use. The scheme reduced the available spaces on the main street by two-thirds, while permission was given to build enormous shopping areas outside the town, a death warrant for the main street.
Locals say these planning decisions, combined with the recession and a lack of industry in the area, lie behind Edenderry’s commercial vacancy rate of 20.6 per cent, one of the highest in the country.
The proprietor of Spar, which contains the post office, is John Brady, whose family business goes back generations. He blames the “doughnut effect”, which is known in the US as the “Wal-Mart effect”. When you arrive in Edenderry from Dublin, you see three consecutive supermarkets: Lidl, Aldi and Tesco. Consumers drive from miles around to comparison-shop in the three, but few of them enter the town itself. At the other end of the main street, down a new road lined with shops that have never been occupied, is a partially occupied mall with a huge, fully stocked Dunnes Stores. On Thursday it was eerily empty.
Edenderry is a ghost town, according to Pat Larkin, a local publican and undertaker whose family business is 80 years old. This week he opened his refurbished lounge to let people know he’s not giving in, and in a gesture of community support he recently used his car park to erect a marquee for a sports-awards event, as there is no hotel in the town in which to hold even a wedding. Edenderry isn’t a ghost town because of a lack of committed businesspeople.
“The busiest place in town is the post office on Wednesdays and Thursdays, when people collect the dole,” says Lukasz Rusinkowski, the owner of Mazurek, a Polish food store that is three months old. Rusinkowski was made unemployed by the recession; tired of unemployment, he invested €10,000 in fitting out the shop. When he came to Edenderry, about a decade ago, it had no superstores. A petrol station and a Tesco anchored the main street.
When Tesco moved in
When Tesco moved to the outskirts, many local shops closed in its wake, says Brady. “If it wasn’t for the post office, I’d be closed, too. There used to be shops everywhere. The town is dead now. It’s all down to bad planning.”