“Horrendous” parking is a major stumbling block for the promotion of Ennis on a national level, according to a well-known retail expert.
Eddie Shanahan, who is a specialist in branding and promotion, was in the county town earlier this week to speak and hold workshops with those involved in Ennis Fashion Fortnight.
While the variety of independent businesses in Ennis marks the town out from others in the country, the lack of parking facilities puts people off shopping in the town, Mr Shanahan believes.
“I think pedestrianisation would make the town more accessible. I am pretty good at knowing my way around and I know my way around New York, London, Paris, Milan and God knows, a lot of places in between but one of the negatives of this town is that I can’t find my way around Ennis. There needs to be clear directions and proper parking because parking is horrendous here. You can’t have a retail business without parking,” he commented.
“If the council thinks about it, they require people to buy services from them, shopkeepers and businesses pay rates, the lifeblood of those shopkeepers and businesses are the people who come in from the hinterland to conduct business here. They have to be able to park because in Ireland we don’t have a public transport system that can substitute for that,” he added.
However Mr Shanahan was quick to state that parking facilities and pedestrianisation in isolation would not get people to come to the town.
“I drove down O’Connell Street and I drove on the brake the whole way down. Before you block off any streets alternative routes must be worked out. If traffic can’t navigate around Ennis, people won’t come to Ennis. It will drive people away,” he told The Clare Champion.
Mr Shanahan pointed out that in the Dublin suburb of Dun Laoghaire businesses were closing down because of a lack of parking.
“Everyone needs to start thinking like a consumer and that includes the council. They are there to serve the consumer, so what does the consumer want? Accessibility,” he added.
Rita McInerney, chief executive of Ennis Chamber agrees that people believe there is a lack of parking in Ennis and that is a deterrent to business.
“The perception is out there, whether real or imaginary, that parking is a problem in Ennis. That is less of a problem in the recession but that is not a good thing. We need to start planning so that we have surplus car parking and coach parking so that people will have an attitude that they will always get spaces,” she stated, adding that the spaces must be close to the town centre.
Ms McInerney said that while the Saturday pedestrianisation trial was cut short, it did have some merits.
“It was put in place to boost trade on a Saturday, it didn’t work in the short term and the pain was to great for the retailers to take in the long term. From the survey we did during the trial the drop ranged from 10% to 40% for some businesses on a Saturday,” she said.
While this cannot all be put down to pedestrianisation, the negative impact on businesses was too great to ignore, she claims.
“If the drop was between 5% and 15% for some businesses, they would have been prepared to weather the storm and see what it would be like in the long term but there was a significant drop in business for a significant number of businesses and that is why it had to end,” Ms McInerney stated.
Like Mr Shanahan, Ms McInerney believes that pedestrianisation without a comprehensive traffic management system, will not work.
“Part of the issue related to pedestrianisation was traffic flow. That problem needs to be looked at again in terms of how we move traffic around the town. Twenty years ago Ennis decided to make it a one-way system and that worked but if you are introducing something like pedestrianisation then you have to look at traffic flow,” she said.
Eddie Shanahan paid tribute to the independent retailers in the town. He also said that while, to date, so-called high street fashion stores have not opened here, the possibility remained that they may.
“I think one of the great advantages here is the buzz. I haven’t seen a buzz like this since I was in Bologna, which is a really young university city. I arrived there on a Saturday and my friends dropped me off at the railway station and there is a one-way system so I had to walk to my hotel. I walked through the Saturday market and I got the same feeling today,” he remarked.
After three years, Shanahan asserts, Ennis Fashion Fortnight must push the boundaries in order to survive and build the image of the town itself further.
“It has made a bit of an impression. I had heard of it from the newspapers and whatever but it I can’t say it made that incredible impression where I desperately wanted to be down here and part of it but I had heard of it. There is a great independent spirit here and there is such choice it just needs to be focussed and presented in a certain way and Ennis Fashion Fortnight needs to move to the next level,” he concluded.