COOK Street in the city centre has gone from being “vibrant to deserted” and a local businessman says it’s completely unacceptable that its future is in the hands of a multi-national.
The majority of the shopfronts on one side of the street lie idle and John Grace of John Grace’s Fried Chicken told the Evening Echo that this has a devastating impact of footfall.
“What has happened on Cook Street is a disgrace,” he said.
“The hotel shut down and then Penneys bought the whole side of the street. They have a couple of short-term lettings but there is no major footfall.”
In addition to the Victoria Hotel, brands like Specsavers and Carraig Donn have left the street, as well as smaller independent stores.
“These were big brand names we had on our street, they are a huge loss. For the daytime they were very important.”
Mr Grace says the effects are even more pronounced after normal retailing trade ceases in the evening.
“For the night time then we had the Ambassador Chinese restaurant, we had Zanzibar, and the hotel,” he said.
“I am the only place left open after 6pm which means the place is basically an alleyway.
“The night time economy is just decimated.”
Penneys has had plans for a major redevelopment of the Patrick Street store for years and parent company Primark went as far as holding pre-planning meetings and discussions with the Cork Business Association (CBA) and local retailers more than two years ago.
Lawrence Owens of the CBA said he understands Mr Grace’s concerns.
“This planning process has been going on for a long time,” he said.
“When it happens it will transform the area, and bring vibrancy in terms of the size and scale of the project. But [in the meantime] he is not facing open and live businesses.
“We are just hoping that this development, which has been mooted for two to three years, can happen sooner rather than later.”
Mr Grace said his business is healthy thanks to a loyal customer base but he fears the rest of the street will never return to what it was.
“Ten years ago the street would have been close to Winthrop Street and definitely busier than Prince’s Street, with trade going on day and night,” he said. “But now, we are just sitting there waiting.”
Depending on what the finished Penneys project is like, he says it may not benefit the street anyway.
“They were talking about putting in a side entrance but that is worthless to us. No-one is going to come out of the side door of Penneys if there is nothing else to come out there for,” he said.
“Take all the upper floors but leave independent businesses on Cook Street, leave four or five so we remain a multi-use street.
“We are just completely at the mercy of them. It might be legal but it is unacceptable.”
He believes the City Council should be taking action.
“I think the council should be applying pressure of some sort,” he said.
“It was a vibrant street and these people were left destroy it.
“We understand progress requires certain disruption, a couple of years, but I’m looking at 10 years start to finish, before we are out of the woods and we still have no guarantee that what will go there will be suitable. I’m not sure the night-time economy will ever come back.
“It is a good wide street, it is pedestrianised, it should be vibrant and there’s absolutely nothing going on there now.”
Penneys did not respond to a request for comment.