‘Essential’ retailers milk the Covid restrictions

A long lockdown means a boom for grocers at the expense of other retailers

Dunnes Stores, Cornelscourt. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Dunnes Stores, Cornelscourt. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

With so few shops open, come the weekend you’ll find queues outside and more queues inside the Cornelscourt flagship of the Dunnes Stores chain. The Covid-19 pandemic may have annihilated the retail sector, but some businesses are still booming.

As a grocer Dunnes Stores has managed to keep most of its outlets open, hastily whipping out the waterfall cardigans and fleeces in locations like Dún Laoghaire and Stillorgan, and installing fridges in their place. By selling sliced ham and pasta the grocer can comply with the “essential” shopping rules.

With most other shops closed, it means that if you want a frying pan or pyjamas it’s off to Dunnes Stores you’ll likely go. The creep to selling more products is evident elsewhere too. Like at both Marks and Spencer and Tesco in Dundrum Shopping Centre.

Like much else to do with Covid-19 restrictions, there has been little thought or nuance given to what is considered “essential”. One can buy a scented candle, for example, or cushions, or a pair of earrings, or sports leggings (with Mother’s Day around the corner the list of “essential” items is rapidly rising) but you can’t get a toddler fitted for their first pair of shoes.

And if homeware is essential, with both Dunnes’ and M&S’s home sections open, then Penneys and Brown Thomas might rightfully wonder why they are being excluded.

There may have been logic to the Government’s original approach to shutting the retail sector – keep people at home so infection levels might subside. But a cursory visit to Cornelscourt (only you’ll have to queue first) or a glance at the escalators in Dundrum will tell you this strategy has had its day.

Like it or not, people are out, people are about, and people want to go somewhere.

Perhaps rather than cramming them into the few retailers that are open, allowing a better mix of shops to open – and a better understanding of what is actually “essential” – might help ease boredom and help with social distancing.