Regular shoppers at Crumlin Shopping Centre will have noticed the changes in recent weeks.
Walking through the front entrance, it looks like a ghost town. But, mixed with the smell of age and damp, there’s also a smell of fresh paint.
The old shopfronts, all closed bar the Dunnes Stores and a pharmacy, have been painted over in white, and the shutters on some are halfway up, showing the building works going on inside and the skeletons of old fridges.
One of the largest lots, near the back, where a Tesco used to be, is completely empty, the floors and walls stripped. Many of the other lots are being used to store building materials.
What’s Going On?
The owners got planning permission in 2010 to demolish and redevelop “a substantial part” of the shopping centre, and to resurface the car park behind it.
The application set out plans to redevelop two “anchor” retail units. The existing “public house” on the first floor, and the three retail units fronting Crumlin Road would be kept as part of the new development.
The application also sets out plans for a restaurant and café area on the mezzanine level, and four retail units, and another café accessed from a new internal mall opening onto the car park.
The first floor would also “contain floor space that can be used as a library, […] or for office accommodation”, with a new entrance from Crumlin Road, the plans note.
It’s unclear whether the 2010 plan is being revived. Roderick Lally – who has been visiting the shopping centre for years – says the existing Dunnes is being moved from its spot at the front, to the old Tesco lot at the back.
The building belongs to Dunnes Stores, Lally says. The applicant listed on the planning permission is “Crumlin Investments Ltd”, a company with four directors, including Dunnes Stores “matriarch” Margaret Heffernan.
Last month, Dunnes Stores absorbed Crumlin Investments Ltd, according to paperwork filed with the Companies Registration Office. This happened several months after a change in operational leadership at Dunnes Stores, and at about the same time as a corporate restructuring.
A representative for Dunnes Stores was not available to answer questions regarding availability of lots to rent within the centre, and plans for redevelopment.
Boom and Bust
Dunnes is near the entrance, and was pretty busy last Thursday morning.
This is the only shopping centre in the area, and people still come to buy groceries, despite the run-down atmosphere.
Over the years, Lally has seen a lot of change and heard a lot of talk, he says.
“Years ago, it was always very busy, and all the shops were open,” he says. Business seemed to plummet during the bust, and shops closed up.
Around that time, there was talk of apartments being put up on the site, he says. “They were supposed to knock it down, but nothing happened.”
No one in the area seems to know what’s going on now, says Lally, but he would like to see the shopping centre revived. It would be handy for people living in the area, he says.
Important for the Community
Dolores Byrne and Patricia McGill have been coming to Crumlin Shopping Centre for years, and echo Lally, remembering when it used to be busy, especially at the weekends.
“I would like to see it as it was,” says Byrne, adding that it was always an important place for the community, where you would catch up with friends and go for coffee.
Originally from Crumlin, Byrne moved to Lucan for a while and then returned 17 years ago. She “nearly died of shock”, after seeing how the shopping centre had changed, she says.
Like Lally, Byrne and McGill say the rents got too high, and nobody was buying so the shops started to close.
The shops are missed, says McGill, especially for people in the area who don’t drive.
They point to where shops used to be: two butchers facing each other, a hairdresser, a clothes shop.
Now, says Byrne, “there’s a musty smell when you walk in”.
Room for Improvement
Every time she goes canvassing, she says, people ask her what’s going on at the site.
“This would be a lost opportunity, not to think up a good strategy for the site. To use it just as a shopping centre would be a folly,” Ní Dhálaigh says.
There’s huge potential to improve the area, she adds, and a chance to provide much-needed housing and office space. “It’s key to do it in consultation with the surrounding area,” she says.
Ní Dháilaigh says this might be a good time for the council to consider a local area plan for the area. However, Sinn Féin Councillor Ray McHugh, says it’s already covered by a 2009 plan for Drimnagh.
McHugh says he believes that as the leases for businesses renting spaces in the centre ran out, they weren’t renewed because the owners wanted to empty it out and redevelop it.
Ní Dhálaigh says that as far as she knows the plan is still to find new tenants for the empty lots within the centre, but that’s up to Dunnes Stores, she says.
Back when the centre was busy, “you could go, sit down, have a coffee”, recalls McHugh.
“I’m looking forward to the redevelopment,” he says. “It would boost the area from an employment and image point of view.”