Traffic was bumper-to-bumper along Grafton Street on Friday morning as vans lined up to drop stock off at shops getting ready for what they are hoping will be the last grand reopening of the Covid crisis.
Watching all the coming and going on a suddenly busy street was Shane Murphy, the Brown Thomas concierge, sporting a top hat and tails. He was back on his beat after a long winter break and was happily nodding at the trickle of shoppers walking through the highly polished glass and brass doors for pre-arranged shopping appointments.
"It's great to be out again," he said. "Mind you, we have been kept busy. We have been doing all sorts of creative things over the last few months. We did the Jerusalem dance challenge for starters. I am kind of light on my feet and we did a bit of practice so [it] wasn't too hard."
As well as donning his dancing shoes, he has done some singing with the in-store choir but of most importance now is his starring role as the face of Brown Thomas. He was, he said, thrilled to be back on the street doing what he does best. “I’m here to greet people and to help tourists,” he explained, before pausing. “At least when we have tourists. I suppose I’m a brand ambassador but my main role really is just to be out on the street as a guiding light.”
Almost on cue, a woman approached him.
"I'm sorry to bother you but I'm lost," she said. "I'm looking for the Vodafone store, I know it's not your job but..."
He interrupted her most gently. “It is exactly my job.” Then he pointed her in the direction of the phone shop.
Inside Brown Thomas in the basement menswear section, Colm Doolin was waiting for customers, just as he has done most Friday mornings for the last 36 years – apart from the coronavirus hiatus months.
“We have all been working online and dealing with people over the phone and dressing them via Zoom and FaceTime, so we have been busy enough,” he said. “People still have to go to weddings and they still have to go to funerals. It’s great to be back dealing with people face to face though. That’s the real thing.”
A couple of floors above Doolin, Tori Delahoyd was wading through a sea of Stella McCartney Prada and Gucci frocks and coats. "I've been coming into [the] store a lot because we have virtual appointments but I think we have all missed that bit of human interaction," she said. "The virtual appointments have been great and customers have told me they were a bright moment in their days but we can't wait to get back to normal to see people face to face."
She said she anticipated the way people shopped for their designer clothes would be slightly altered this year.
Normally the most dedicated followers of fashion buy their spring and summer clothes in the depths of winter and are getting ready to buy their autumn and winter wardrobes now. “It is likely to be different and people will be buying clothes that they are ready to wear straight away,” she said. “And we will definitely see a shift away from athleisure as people will be really looking forward to dressing up and going out to a restaurant or maybe even a party. I think people will be buying clothes to wear now more than ever.”
Shauna O’Connor heads up the cosmetics department and despite facing unique challenges in how her team interact with customers – something that is normally done up close and personal – she was still “so happy to see all our customers coming back. It has been challenging for all of us but we are very positive now and when people started coming in for appointment shopping this week it was like seeing old friends. It was really beautiful.”
Store director Mark Limby was all smiles underneath his mask. He told The Irish Times that Brown Thomas had become wearily accustomed to reopening over the past 12 months. To brighten people's days this time out, Brown Thomas has launched what it has dubbed a Summer In Motion campaign.
It will see the shop bedecked with floral displays inside and out as of Monday. Even before the full reopening fake plastic flowers were in bloom throughout the store, the tills were buzzing and voices were echoing through the perfume and money-scented halls.
As they have done on the other occasions that they were able to reopen, the footfall counters and cameras monitoring the flow of the shoppers will be operating and the sanitisation stations and the social distancing measures will be impossible to avoid. “This will be our third reopening and hopefully it will be our last,” he said. “I really hope people come into the shop from next week and into the city.”