The King of Trainers on Dublin’s Henry Street was one of the first shops out of the starting blocks at the start of the post-Christmas winter sales; while queues were still forming outside the big department stores its tills were ringing loudly.
Not all the men sporting brightly coloured puffa jackets who lined up to buy discounted trainers appeared to be in the whole of their health.
“I’m f**king dying, man. Are you dying?” one shaken-looking shopper in his late teens asked his mate.
“Yeah, I’m dying,” came the terse response. “Are you going out tonight?”
“I am, yeah, are you?”
And off they went, ashen faced but happy enough with their new shoes.
They were not the only dazed- and confused-looking shoppers on the streets of Dublin as a pale sun climbed over the city, heralding the start of a cold but dry St Stephen’s Day.
Thomas Scarff from Blanchardstown, standing outside Arnotts, looked pretty confused too as he surveyed the queue of three people which had formed behind him at the store’s main entrance.
“I’m only here to get some pots,” he said. “I’m massively disappointed with the queue. I could have had an extra half an hour in bed and maybe a cup of tea.”
As he spoke, he looked with bleary eyes in the direction of his wife, Susan Bolger. There may have been a hint of accusation in the eyes too.
“I know the queue is a bit small all right,” she said. “But the sales start earlier every year and then you have all the online shopping. Hopefully by the time the doors open there’ll be a bigger queue.”
Catherine Buckley from Fairview joined them as they waited. "All I'm after is an Orla Kiely handbag. I'll probably only be here an hour. If I can get in and out in that time I'll only have to pay €2.10 for the parking."
How much was she willing to pay for a bag? “€100 or so but it’ll be great value,” she said.
“There used to be the queues in the old days but this is weird.” She looked at the small group forming behind her. “I suppose a lot of sales started before Christmas, though, didn’t they?”
Some 20 minutes later the queue had swelled to a couple of hundred and when the security guards opened the doors the flood of shoppers poured in. Like most of them, Buckley raced to the accessories section and secured her bag. She was one of the first at the tills.
“Look at this,” she said as she handed over the cash. “It was €147 and there’s 40 per cent off. So how much of a saving is that? I don’t know but it’s great anyways.”
As Zara opened in the nearby Ilac Centre, Jennifer Dempsey from Kinnitty, Co Offaly, looked focused. “I saved my money for the sales and I have my eye on a good winter coat,” she said.
She was standing alongside her friend Maeve Krutov from Lucan who also had her eye on a winter coat although, thankfully, not the same one. “Just wait until the doors open,” Krutov laughed. “We might be arrested because we’re going to push our way in and take no prisoners. Before Christmas those coats cost €100 but they’re going for €60, which means they’re practically free.”
It was much the same story on the other side of the river, where River Island on Grafton Street was one of the first shops to open its doors.
Early customer Jonathan Harnan from Dublin was barely in the shop 10 minutes and already his arms were weighed down by clothes.
“I love it. I absolutely love it,” he said. “Me, my mum and my girlfriend were queuing outside at 7.30am. It is a proper tradition now. We have been doing it for five years and it is just brilliant. I don’t know how much money I’ll spend, probably over a couple of hundred euro anyway.”
There were hundreds outside Brown Thomas by the time its doors opened. At the head of the queue were two Chinese men morosely munching on McMuffins and a man in his 40s wearing a grey tracksuit, who looked like he was on his way home from a heavy night.
He asked not to be identified and was clearly having the craic. “It is just the best sale anywhere,” he enthused. “I’m not sure what I’m going to get. I’ll probably just run downstairs and get whatever I see.”
Michelle Garrigan from Ashbourne, Co Meath, was just behind him and a lot more focused. “It’s my fourth year coming to the Brown Thomas sale and I will be very quick,” she said. “I know exactly what I need, so I’ll be in and out very fast.” What was it she needed? “I’ve my eye on a Marc Jacobs handbag. I reckon I’ll get a discount of a couple hundred quid. But to be honest, I’m not really doing it to save money – I enjoy the sales.”
Within an hour of the store opening it was bedlam. Store director Mark Limby looked pleased. “One of the things I’ve noticed is the large number of younger people – young men in particular – here. They tend to wait until the afternoon but there are a lot more of them in-store now.”
Business was also good outside the capital. “We had a big queue outside Galway, and Cork was doing really well too,” Limby said. “The first day is really important because it gives you a good indication of how you’re going to do.
“What we are seeing here is a lot more activity around the menswear section. Normally all the action in the early part of the day is focused around accessories and, while that is still busy, the crowds are dispersed more through the store.”
As Limby went on his way, a man approached a nearby shop assistant seeking a second opinion on a coat. He wanted to know if it looked too small on him. The shop assistant appraised the coat and admitted: “It is a little on the small side alright.”
The shopper looked at the sleeves sadly – truth be told, they practically finished at his elbows. “Ah sure I’ll just buy it anyway,” he said and wandered off in the direction of the tills.