Bye bye boutiques...

A number of independent boutiques have closed their doors in Cork city and suburbs. Follower of fashion and model Busi Zulu talks to a business owner about the challenges faced by small independent businesses, as well as another who was forced to shut up shop
Bye bye boutiques...
Mary Jo Murphy, who used to run Mercury Goes Retrograde, on Drawbridge St., Cork. One of a number of boutiques which closed in the past 12 months. Picture: Denis Minihane.

CORK has got some amazing independent boutiques — but a few have closed down in the past year — which is devastating news for business owners.

Mercury Goes Retrograde closed at Drawbridge Street, while The Dressing Room shut up shop at Emmet Place. Second Chance on North Main Street closed its doors, and Devilish Designs by Gina vacated their premises at Market Parade.

Peacock and Ruby, also shut up shop at Market Parade and recently the shutters came down on Blush Boutique in Douglas Village Shopping Centre.

Independent boutiques tend to be my first choice when I need an outfit for an upcoming event as they always offer unique pieces.

It is so exciting to walk into a store, look around, and not know what kind of piece you are going to find. If you buy a new item from a boutique, you’re almost guaranteed not to run into a few people who are wearing the exact same thing. Another reason I support them is they bring in a variety of brands, which also creates a platform for up-and-coming designers who deliver new styles. This allows everyone to have a distinctive look.

If these amazing boutiques continue to close down, it is going to be difficult to find that elsewhere.

Not only is it about the style and clothing they offer, but we are also helping to support local businesses if we shop independently.

I recently met with Ruby Morley, owner of Isobella Ru, a true gem located on Drawbridge Street. Ruby has been running the business now for three years. So what made her decide to open the boutique in Cork city?

Ruby Morley
Ruby Morley

She said: “I’m from Cork city and really do love it as a city so that’s why I opened in Cork. I opened on Drawbridge Street as there was a range of fabulous clothing boutiques such as Paper Dolls, Mercury Goes Retrograde and Samui. I thought these beautiful shops would complement what I do.”

From when the company first opened until today, what changes has she noticed?

“I’ve noticed a downward turn in the amount of shoppers coming into town and an increase in anti-social behaviour,” she said.

But this isn’t stopping her from expanding the business, currently she is extending her range and will have more locally designed collections in the very near future.

However, pressures remain and trading in the city centre has its drawbacks.

She said: “From feedback off customers, their main complaint is the price of parking in the city.

“Also, rent and rates in certain parts of Cork city make it very hard for smaller businesses to survive.

“There have been lots of amazing businesses closing their doors in the last year or two, I think, because of this.”

What can be done in order to minimise these pressures?

“If there were parking incentives or deals for shoppers and if the larger units that are empty all over the city were made more accessible for businesses, I think this would make a huge difference to the city and draw more outside visitors.”

What advice would Ruby give to someone who’s hoping to open a boutique in Cork?

“I guess to chat to people that are in business already, do your research and if you feel it might work, to go for it, as I think the more boutiques and independent businesses that open, the more unique and interesting Cork becomes and hopefully this in turn will bring more people into Cork that live here and from abroad.”

I also spoke to Mary Jo Murphy, who sadly closed her vintage boutique, Mercury Goes Retrograde, recently, which was also located on Drawbridge street.

“I was a vintage clothes shop selling clothing for men and women that I had handpicked in the States, Canada and across Europe,” Mary Jo explained.

She was open for eight years.

“I chose the particular location of the shop for its proximity to the main street and Opera Lane shopping district and for the relatively reasonable rent.”

In the shop’s third year she totally revamped the interior and over the years she researched different buying locations to improve the shop’s stock.

But it was not viable to keep the doors open.

She doesn’t have any plans on opening an online version of the store — as some other boutiques have done, since they have closed.

She explained her thinking behind that: “My reason for opening in the first place is my belief in the city centre and my wish to have an interesting vibrant and diverse city, the closure of small businesses is partly due to the market growth of online retail which is virtually impossible to compete with.

“Are we to end up with ghost cities with only a few multinational chains, cafes and grooming businesses (you can’t get your hair cut online... yet!) open in the city?

“My dread of this future fuels my aversion for running an online business,” she said.

Mary Jo said the main threat for small businesses is online trading, and as this gets stronger and kills local businesses, the city will become a less and less attractive place for people to visit, making it even harder for those still trying to run their shops.

“Also, the cut prices of high street shops are impossible to compete with, a small locally run business will always have to be more expensive than the multi-national. People need to decide what kind of city they want to have and support the businesses that enhance their environment,” she concluded.

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