‘People are not spending their money here’: The slow recovery of Naas

After setbacks during the recession, many shops in the Kildare town are still empty

Vacant shop fronts on the Main Street of Naas, Co. Kildare. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Vacant shop fronts on the Main Street of Naas, Co. Kildare. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The recovery from the recession has been slow for many business owners operating on Main Street in Naas, Co Kildare.

The county’s population has risen in recent years and while housing is hard to come by in some areas, many commercial units lie empty.

The half-finished shell of the Naas Shopping Centre, the building off Main Street which was abandoned during the financial crash, is a stark reminder of the investment needed to revive the town centre.

“This town is crying out for an anchor,” says Martina Phipps, who has run the arts and crafts shop Tuckmill Gallery on Main Street for more than three decades.

The rates are high, so there has been little uptake of units except for charity shops, which benefit from tax concessions

Phipps is proud of the “niche” stores the town offers, but says it can be difficult to buy everyday items and groceries.

“If you didn’t know the town well you wouldn’t think you could buy a pint of milk here,” she adds.

Over the years, the shopkeeper has seen larger retailers like Penneys and Superquinn pull out of the area.

The town’s retail offerings have been dwarfed by popularity of the Monread Shopping Centre and a Tesco Superstore on the outskirts of Naas, the Whitewater Shopping Centre in Newbridge, and Kildare Village up the N7.

Naas Main Street, in Co Kildare. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
Naas Main Street, in Co Kildare. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Phipps finds the Tesco to be “far too big and cold, but of course there is free parking and you can’t argue with that”.

A Dunnes Stores food hall is set to open in the middle of the Main Street in August, which has the potential to bring a lot of business back into the town, she adds.

“There used to be a Superquinn in the centre, which was always such a busy spot. Hopefully now this will draw people back in.”

Although retailers, such as herself, can avail of local government grants to repair or upgrade store fronts, Phipps feels the council could do more to incentivise new business in the town.

“It is a bit of a contention of mine because I grew up here and I saw things change,” she says. The rates are high, so there has been little uptake of units except for charity shops, which benefit from tax concessions, she adds.

‘Lack of people’

Some locals have taken matters into their own hands. The Naas Regeneration Group, formed by local businesses and other volunteers, started a town voucher scheme which aims to encourage people to shop locally.

“Maybe it is baby steps, but it feels like we are gaining a little bit of momentum,” Phipps adds.

Dressing the Main Street since 1980, Mary Fielding’s soft-furnishings shop, Finishing Touches, lost staff members and customers during the financial crash.

Although Kildare is classified as the third-wealthiest county in Ireland, Fielding says neither her business nor her staff numbers have fully recovered from the crash.

'The town has a vibrancy, there is no doubt about that, but it is still quite depressed... Naas is supposed to be one of the wealthiest towns in Ireland. I would challenge that'

There is no doubt that online shopping has played a role, but the shopping complexes that opened on the town’s periphery have also been contributing factors, she says.

While Naas is full of young couples, there is a “distinct lack of people in the town,” she adds, as many people who have moved to the area in recent years spend nearly all of their time in Dublin.

New to the street, Charles McAvoy says he “took a risk” in choosing to open a men’s shoe shop just two months ago.

“I will only know in about a year if that risk has paid off,” he says. “The town has a vibrancy, there is no doubt about that, but it is still quite depressed... Naas is supposed to be one of the wealthiest towns in Ireland. I would challenge that, because people are not spending their money here.”