When Canada's Great-West agreed to buy Irish Life for €1.3 billion, it probably wasn't thinking too closely about the small and imperfectly formed shopping mall on Dublin's Talbot Street that would be included in the deal.
The former Irish Life Mall has been rebranded as the Talbot Mall, an upgrade that subtly lifts it out of its 1980s roots and, its new owners will hope, may set it back on the path to prosperity. In retail terms, the facility has been suffering – the past few years have seen the exodus of a florist, a shoe shop, a bag shop, a hairdresser and a travel agent among others.
The late Hugh O'Regan's ambitious Life Bar at the front of the centre was once a draw for those riding the boom but, even after a stylish rebranding as Floridita, it too shut its doors. Even as the rebranding was taking place recently, a long-established jeweller in the centre was pulling down the shutters for the last time.
So many outlets are now closed that Irish Life has commissioned Virtual Shopfronts to come up with high-specification fronts for the vacant stretches – thus lessening the dreariness a touch.
The shopfronts use bright images of businesses such as mobile phone shops, presumably the type of retail Irish Life would like to attract.
For now, the booming end of the centre, which stretches between Talbot Street and Abbey Street, is the Talbot end, where Dealz has occupied an outlet vacated last year by Eason and a pharmacy injects some vibrancy.
At the other end, the natural light disappears as the centre merges into offices and a car park, suggesting that the sensible thing for Great-West to do might be to simply give in to that kind of development for that half of the Mall. The takeover is expected to complete in June.
For now, Irish Life is holding steady, with a spokesman acknowledging that “like retail generally, the Talbot Street Mall is experiencing a number of challenges with the weak economy. We will continue to work with tenants in the centre and review options to maximise its performance.”