Wealthier shoppers are being deterred from returning to Dublin city centre by Dublin City Council's crackdown on cars, a city business organisation has said.
Business group Dublin Can Be Heaven said small, independent retailers were being neglected under the council’s pedestrianisation measures, and a fostering of “hostility” towards drivers.
The council's city recovery plan to help business reopen following the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions saw the pedestrianisation of several streets, particularly in the area around Grafton Street. While these measures helped facilitate outdoor dining, the group which represents about 70 businesses in the area said independent retailers were being left behind.
"A lot of businesses are on a knife edge at the moment, we face so many difficulties in getting customers back into the city, and DCC [Dublin City Council] hasn't given us a fair crack of the whip to help get car-borne shoppers back," Mary Costelloe of accessories shop Costelloe + Costelloe on Chatham Street said.
Not everyone was willing, or in a position, to use public transport, she said.
“If you want to get the better-heeled customer into the city, people who want to buy more than a coffee, they generally prefer to travel by car.”
Focusing exclusively on hospitality businesses would ultimately be detrimental to the city, she added.
“People are coming into town for drinking, and for cafes and restaurants, and yes, they needed help, but I get the feeling DCC has no time for independent retailers and little specialist shops, and without us you could be anywhere.
"How about advertising us a little bit? Being proud of what we do? We need every bit of help we can get, but instead I get the feeling DCC just want to turn the area into Temple Bar mark two."
The council said it was “very conscious of the mix of businesses and attractions required to make Dublin city an attractive and vibrant place to visit. All businesses play a part in making the city centre what it is and it is this mix that makes Dublin city centre a unique experience.”
Its actions were designed for “the betterment of the city centre as a whole rather than specific sectors” it said but it had specifically targeted retail with its “We missed you too” campaign to coincide with the reopening of retail. Retail was also highlighted in its “We Can Dublin Again” radio advert, it said.
Martin Deniau of Monte-Cristo antiques and collectibles shop in the Powerscourt Centre said the council was focusing its resources on attracting a young demographic to the city and neglecting more mature spenders.
“A lot of the small boutiques in the city centre would have a high proportion of mature customers, who are well heeled and living in wealthy suburban areas. Many of that generation don’t cycle and don’t want to take crummy buses with bottles and cans rolling down the aisles.”
Mr Deniau said he had seen pedestrianisation projects in operation in French cities. “Some worked and some failed, where they failed it was mainly because they were poorly managed, with no effective policing, aggressive begging, no public toilets. Pedestrianisation could work, but if DCC don’t pull their weight, this is going to fail.”
Already, he said, the portents were not positive. “Warned about the public toilet issue for a long time. They told us there would be public toilets in place by the end of June. There weren’t.”
The council last year installed temporary toilets at St Stephen's Green and Wolfe Tone Square. A tender for toilets as part of new cafe kiosks across Dublin resulted in the provision of just six facilities, largely in suburban locations, with just one in the city, beside the Iveagh Gardens on Clonmel Street.
“They have to actually do these things rather than just say they are going to do them. Generally, I’d just like them to manage the city.”
Mr Deniau said hospitality businesses were also concerned with the turn the city was taking.“They don’t want the whole place to turn into a drinking den. Don’t want vomit all over the place. People like us with 30 years’ experience in our business, we are the salt of the city, take us out and what you are left with is a shell. There is a risk the place will turn into pizza and kebab land.”
Mary Whelan, of Eirlooms Irish craft shop of Stephen's Street, said there were simple measures the council could take to help businesses whose customers use cars.
“One or two days a week could be designated for access for cars with cheaper parking.” The group had asked the council to offer free parking in the three weeks before Christmas. “The answer was it was against council policy.”
She said she did not expect drivers to be treated on a par with pedestrians, but there had to be balance.
“Some people need to drive. Especially rural people who would be very used to being able to park straight outside a shop. We are excluding a whole section of the country. The city belongs to everybody, walkers, cyclists and drivers – not always in equal measure, but the city has to remain accessible to all, and the message is going out that Dublin is a hostile place for cars.”