Dún Laoghaire searches for ways to weather the storm as recession bites
High rents and high rates have led to some businesses in the town ceasing to trade
Some of the many shops that have closed for business on George’s Street in Dún Laoghaire. Photograph: Eric Luke
“Marks and Spencer closing isn’t the end of the world. It’s just another shop,” states Graham Mongey. Mongey is one of three family members who own JJ Darboven’s in Dún Laoghaire, a specialist tea and coffee shop trading for 25 years. He’s referring to the news that broke on Wednesday that Marks and Spencer is to close four of its Irish shops, including the Dún Laoghaire branch.
“I wouldn’t be too worried about it,” he says. “We’re never going to be a Dundrum and we shouldn’t be trying to. We have the harbour and the pier, and lots of small family businesses. We should have nice fish and chip shops on the front, like Howth does; we should be making Dún Laoghaire a place to go to relax. People don’t go to Dundrum to relax; they go to shop. But there is definitely a need to make more parking available here, at a much cheaper rate. People want to park for three hours. An hour is too short, two hours isn’t long enough, three is enough that you stop worrying. It needs to be cheaper.”
It’s currently at least €2 an hour to park in Dún Laoghaire town centre, depending on where you park. Some spaces are owned by the council, other by the harbour, or various shopping centres, at least one of which charges €2.40 an hour.
Jim Ryan is Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council’s communications officer. “They’re independent commercial entities. We can’t tell them what to charge,” Ryan says, when asked if all the owners of parking spaces in the town could agree on a flat rate.
“And the council currently have 90 per cent occupancy of our spaces, so prices aren’t putting people off, although I admit the perception is there from the public that parking is a problem. Also, the council don’t clamp you,” he stresses. “The harbour car park will clamp you.” However, if you forget to feed the meter, the council issues parking fines instead, which is €60 a time.
Wessel Badenhorst is the council’s enterprise officer. “The perception that local people shop locally is not true. They don’t,” he says. “They have too much choice elsewhere. That’s not just Dún Laoghaire’s problem; it’s happening in small towns all over Ireland. ”
Badenhorst sees collaboration with the harbour and “bringing tourists into the town” as key to the town’s future. His wishlist for how the town could develop includes a night economy on George’s Street, designated specialist shops offering organic produce to attract local shoppers, street furniture and cycle facilities. “We’re doing a good job on the sea front,” he says. “We need to work back from the coast to the main street, to bring tourists up into the town.”
“Parking,” is the first word that Nonnie Hilton, manager of StockXchange clothing shop, says when asked what she thinks might help attract more shoppers to the town.
‘Charity shop village’
“When Dundrum opened, there was a rate here for a while that was €2 for three hours, but that’s gone now. It should be brought back. The town is becoming like a ghost town. It’s turning into a charity shop village.”