Under the gaudy black-and-yellow “CLOSING DOWN SALE” sign in the window of Boyers is a classier black sign with white italic script.
It’s more like what Dubliners have come to expect from the historic department store. “After more than 100 years we’re saying goodbye & thank you,” it reads.
As the final day approaches, this coming Sunday, staff made it clear through their union representatives that they didn’t want to discuss the closure in the media.
But through the Mandate union’s website, employee Kieron Byrne did express his regret. “For over 50 years Boyers has maintained a sense of family and a warm welcoming atmosphere that has never left the building,” he writes. “A few tears will definitely be shed.”
The 25-year-old recalls the characters he’s worked with and some of the famous faces he’s encountered. Former President Mary McAleese buying clothes. Senator David Norris asking about eccentric suits. Goalie Packie Bonner picking up a few bits.
Noel Smyth of Fitzwilliam Finance Partners, which is selling the property, is also sad to see the store close. There just wasn’t enough business coming through the doors, he says.
Inside, the store is now unrecognisable. Bare shelves. The sale stock that has been left behind resembles the wares of pound shops.
A drastic change, but not too dissimilar now from other shops in this strip of town. Talbot Street, in particular, hosts Value 4 U, Euro Giant and Dealz to name a few.
Over the years, the two streets have become home to an increasing number of discount shops, while some well-established neighbouring stores like Boyers, Clerys and Guineys have had to closed up.
So what does the future hold for North Earl Street and adjoining Talbot Street?
“The shopfronts are a disgrace,” says Billy Corr, who has worked at Gerry Keane’s Wallpaper for 42 years. He points down the street toward bright pink and yellow shops and the signs that stick out along the way.
He has a point. The signs are reminiscent of the ones on O’Connell Street, which some councillors often say they are determined to see an end to.
Some shops don’t even have doors, he says, just shutters. “People coming back don’t recognise [the street],” he adds.
Corr is not too worried about the upcoming closure of Boyers, as he doesn’t rely much on passersby; his customers often come down to Talbot Street just to buy wallpaper or paint from him. But he says there could be more to attract punters down this way.
“Why would you want to shop down here?” he asks, “Nowhere sells clothes for young people. We’ve been left behind a little bit. Now it’s just a walkway to get to other shops.”
People do seem to walk with more purpose here than on Henry Street, as if commuting from Connolly Station, rather than window shopping.
Those Vexing Vacancies
Conor O’Neill of O’Neill’s Shoes, which has been on Talbot Street since 1962, says he is particularly perturbed by the number of unused buildings along North Earl Street and Talbot Street.
There’s the old Guineys, there’s Clerys, there’s also a vacant building with no signs of a previous life snuggled between two pound shops. Most of the Talbot Mall is vacant too. (Irish Life, who owns the mall, didn’t answer our questions about whether they had any plans for it.)
“If they were in Dublin 2, they would be developed like that,” says O’Neill, with a click of his fingers.
He thinks it would help if the council delisted some of the buildings or were more flexible when it came to modifications.
“We can’t make shops bigger,” he says. He walks toward the back of his shop. In the back garden is a large, unused, rundown structure. He says he can’t do anything with it, because it’s simply too expensive to restore.
Noel Tynan, owner of the Celt pub and Le Bon Crubeen restaurant on Talbot Street, bought the neighbouring Guineys building after it closed in 2012. He planned to build a 44-bedroom hotel with a new four-storey extension added on.
Last year, he wasn’t happy when his planning application was rejected because of the size of the proposed building and its change of use from retail to hospitality.
Both O’Neill and Corr were supportive of his bid. Local shop owners were expected to object to a hotel, says Corr, but everyone just wants to see the shutters up.
Not All Doom and Gloom
Despite recent closures, a number of longstanding stores are still going strong: Gerry Keane’s Wallpaper, O’Neill’s Shoes, Dunnes Stores, Duffy’s Curtains, FX Buckley and two Guineys stores.
And after reapplying for planning permission and asking for one less storey, Tynan’s hotel plans were approved.
The former Guineys store will soon become a 33-bedroom hotel with a three-storey extension to the back, which will accommodate a function room, a bar and a shop.
Corr is glad hear this news.
Clerys is currently lying empty and the new owners over at Natrium Limited are keeping their lips sealed about plans. One of three directors, John Skelly, said, “I have no comment,” and promptly hung up the phone.
But DublinTown CEO Richard Guiney is happy that the company is putting together a planning application. “We’ll have to wait and see what comes out of the process,” he says.
A mystery, but a hopeful sign the property won’t lie dormant for too long.
He’s also optimistic that the Boyers site will be bought and developed. Noel Smyth is waiting until Boyers is closed before looking at offers, but says, “North Earl Street does deserve to have a new iconic store.”
In Need of TLC
Crossing from North Earl Street to Talbot Street, a mound of tarmacadam has made the road indistinct from the path.
Instead of a kerb, a white line painted in a curve indicates where the footpath ends, a danger and an eyesore that would likely not be tolerated on the other side of the spire. These streets need some TLC.
Though O’Neill doesn’t have much positive to say about the council, he compliments DublinTown’s efforts. The organisation is currently working with the business community to come up with a plan to promote the area.
“Generally, I am optimistic for the northside,” says Guiney. “It’s in a good location and will have the Luas beside it in the not too distant future.”