Specialist shops are key to attracting shoppers to Temple Bar's new Old City
The high-profile launch of fashion designer Cuan Hanley's shop last month helped draw attention to Dublin's newest retail area - the west end of Temple Bar. The official name for the area is the Old City and it stretches from Parliament Street to Fishamble Street and includes an entirely new street, Cow's Lane, linking Lord Edward Street and Essex Street.
It is primarily a residential area, although there are 22 retail units ranging in size from 320 sq ft to 1,600 sq ft, 20 of which are now let.
The units are all at the ground floor level of new apartment buildings, and in all, there is approximately 10,000 sq ft of retail space. The letting agents, Temple Bar Properties, expect that all units will be open for business sometime during this coming summer.
The development of a new retail area in Temple Bar is in many ways the triumph of hope over experience. Retail has never quite taken off in Dublin's self styled Left Bank. While Crown Alley thrives as a shopping street thanks to heavy pedestrian traffic heading to and from the Ha'penny Bridge, the area's many side streets experience relatively little passing trade.
Despite promotional efforts on the part of Temple Bar Properties during the past five years to sell the area as a retail destination, the general perception is that Temple Bar is more about drinking and eating than it is about buying.
The west end will have even less passing trade, which would seem to raise question marks over the viability of the new retail units.
"We know this is not a heavily trafficked area," says Una Carmody from Temple Bar Properties, "so with that in mind we looked for specialist and destination retailers. People who have their own audience."
She starting filling the units by targeting anchor tenants and encouraging them to take space - much in the same way shopping centre promoters target tenants to set the tone for their development.
Cuan Hanley was one of those targeted, as was Garret O'Hagan, a furniture retailer who already has a retail outlet, Haus, in another part of Temple Bar. O'Hagan has taken two units, one to sell kitchens, the other for a specialist lighting shop.
Ms Carmody thinks that O'Hagan's decision to further invest in Temple Bar is a sign of his positive experience of trading in the area.
Other retailers who have taken space include fashion designer Claire Garvey, well-known jeweller John Weldon and master baker Jimmy White, who worked in the family business, the Boston Bakery in Drumcondra, for many years. The mix also includes a newsagent, a gardening shop and a computer accessories shop as well as outlets selling crafts, furniture and collectibles. Planning stipulations mean that there is only provision for one restaurant/ coffee shop and it has been taken up by a small cafe.
None of the retailers was required to pay key money and all leases are for 20 years. Prices range from £20 to £27 per sq ft.
Recently, Temple Bar Properties let its entire 4,000 sq ft retail unit, Urbana, for £40 per sq ft, and units in Crown Alley would expect to realise a minimum of £45 per sq ft. The new shops will benefit from the double rent relief and rates remission regime that applies in the area.
The two remaining units are small at less than 400 sq ft and there is already interest in them from a picture framer and a bookseller.
Whoever takes these will have missed out on the rent and rates break, as only those who signed up for the units before the end of December, 1999, qualify.
The summer opening schedule is not accidental, as the west end is on an increasingly busy tourist path that starts at the Viking Centre and Christ Church and runs through Temple Bar down to Westmoreland Street.
The hope is that the new west end retail area will develop a distinct identity of its own: Ms Carmody compares it to nearby Francis Street, a successful specialist antiques area which is very much off the beaten track.