Thousands of retailers have reopened their doors to customers after almost five months of closure.
Ireland took another step towards normality as all non-essential retail was allowed to resume on Monday.
Click-and-collect services and shopping by appointment resumed last week as part of a phased reopening of retail, but stores have not been allowed to open their doors to all customers since before New Year’s Eve.
Hundreds of shoppers descended on Dublin’s O’Connell Street and Henry Street to take advantage of reopening on Monday morning.
The very best of luck to all those opening their doors for the first time in a long time today. Lets stay safe & keep them open. Remember to try #Shoplocal if you can
— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) May 17, 2021
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar tweeted: “The very best of luck to all those opening their doors for the first time in a long time today. Lets stay safe & keep them open. Remember to try #Shoplocal if you can.”
Retail Ireland, the Ibec group that represents the retail sector, said retailers reopening today were hopeful of a significant summer trade bounce of around €800 million.
Sales over the next month are expected to be 40 per cent higher than pre-pandemic times, due to pent-up consumer demand.
Based on experience from last year, Retail Ireland said it expects Irish consumers to spend over €3 billion on debit and credit cards in shops in the next month — €800 million more than over the same period pre-pandemic.
There is a real sense of optimism. We don’t expect to have to close down again
Director of Retail Ireland Arnold Dillon said: “It has been a long road, but a buzz is finally returning to high streets and shops after months of restrictions.
“There is a lot of pent-up demand, which should lead to strong sales over the coming weeks. Public health is the absolute priority. Retailers have been reviewing and updating their public health protocols to ensure a safe experience for customers and staff.
“The last few months have been incredibly stressful for retail businesses and their staff, but there is a real sense of optimism. We don’t expect to have to close down again.
“Government supports have been a lifeline for many businesses, but challenges remain. Debt levels have increased significantly, and many rent disputes remain unresolved.
“Supporting the experience economy and breathing life back into our towns and cities must be a top priority over the coming weeks and months. It is really important that a plan is put in place for getting offices open again.”
Retail Excellence, the organisation representing more than 2,000 retailers across the country, described the full reopening of non-essential retail as a “landmark day for the industry”, especially the sector’s 280,000 employees.
The organisation’s managing director Duncan Graham said retailers were getting the opportunity “to fully welcome shoppers back into their stores after a long, hard four-and-a-half months of the latest lockdown”.
He said the easing of restrictions was different this time around, adding: “Thankfully, our vaccination rollout is picking up pace and we have had strong assurances from the Government that we are not going backwards.
“Finally, this means that retailers can plan for the weeks and months ahead with the sort of confidence that has been missing for over a year.”
He added: “As always, shoppers can be confident that retailers are continuing to uphold the highest standards of safety for everyone in their stores, and we would urge shoppers to be patient when visiting shops once again.”
From May 17th all remaining retail can reopen. Even if you are vaccinated, remember to stay safe and protect each other. #StaySafe #thinkoutdoors
➡️Keep 2 metres apart
➡️Wear your mask
➡️Use hand sanitiser
➡️Keep spaces well ventilatedhttps://t.co/geCmY3jxsl pic.twitter.com/HKxNeIwRQD
— MerrionStreet.ie #StaySafe #HoldFirm (@merrionstreet) May 15, 2021
The Government has appealed for people to stay safe as restrictions ease.
Junior Business Minister Damien English said he was delighted for retailers and paid tribute to the “resilience and patience” of business owners and workers in the sector.
“It has been a long road and I want to thank those in the sector who have worked closely with myself and the Government over the last few months to make this day possible,” said Mr English, who has responsibility for the retail sector.
“I urge everyone to shop local and to support their local retailers in the coming days and months ahead.
“I am mindful that safe shopping is as important as ever and shoppers need to adhere to public health guidelines; to wear a mask in store and in busy outdoor areas for your safety and for that of other shoppers and staff, even if you have been vaccinated.
“Remember also to keep a two-metre distance from others and to use hand sanitisers on entering and leaving any shop.”
Mr English added: “I am sure that the public are keen to support our retailers as they begin to trade again after a really tough few months. We must remain vigilant in the fight against Covid.
“Public health and safety must always be paramount but with caution and by working together we can once again enjoy the old normality.”
While Mr English described the reopening of retail as “a positive development”, he said he was conscious that restaurants, pubs, indoor family entertainment centres such as play centres and bowling alleys are not yet allowed to resume operations.
Amid a raft of loosened Covid-19 restrictions on May 10th, a phased reopening of retail began last week with the return of click-and-collect services and shopping by appointment.
On the same date, intercounty travel resumed, three households or six people were permitted to meet outdoors and a vaccine bonus came into force.
Personal services such as hairdressers also reopened by appointment while galleries, museums and other cultural attractions and libraries also opened their doors.
The easing of Ireland’s restrictions is proceeding in two main phases over the course of May and June, with higher-risk activities such as indoor hospitality and international travel to be considered at the end of June.
The next phase of reopening is earmarked for June 2nd, when hotels, B&Bs, guesthouses and self-catering accommodation are due to reopen for guests.
From June 7th, outdoor services in bars and restaurants are set to recommence, along with outdoor sports matches without spectators.
Gyms, swimming pools, and leisure centres will reopen for individual training, the number of guests attending wedding receptions can increase to 25 and indoor visits in private homes from one other household can begin again.