A quick afternoon walk around the clothes section in Dunnes Stores in Enniscorthy, shows dozens of people busily looking through well stocked rails of clothes, while only a few hundred yards away, small, independently owned clothes shops remain shut.
In Dunnes, a wide variety of clothes are now available for sale. Previously, far greater sections of the clothing department were blocked off following the introduction of level 5 restrictions. There are still a few areas within the clothing department blocked off. This has been described by a customer as ‘a token gesture’.
The main issue here is that only hundreds of yards away, small independent clothes shops have been forced to keep their doors shut for most of the last 12 months, with the survival of some in jeopardy.
When contacted, a staff member in Dunnes Stores in Enniscorthy said the following (before being told by a manager to direct any further queries to head office):
“It’s only nightwear, underwear, gymwear and tracksuit bottoms (for sale). Jeans, trousers and tops are still closed off.”
There are a number of issues with this statement:
- Photographic evidence from inside the shop taken today and earlier this week clearly disproves this statement, with tops clearly on display for sale:
2. Have Dunnes Stores received different public health advice from government than small independent clothing retailers, or are they flouting the rules?
3. The owner of MySport, a sports shop only 1 street away, may be surprised to learn that Dunnes Stores now deem gym and sportswear to be essential. Likewise, Murt Walsh menswear, Modern Fashions and J’Adore Boutique may also be surprised to learn that clothing is now ok to sell.
The clothes which Dunnes Stores are currently selling in Enniscorthy include tops, jackets, blouses, t-shirts, tracksuits, hoodies etc, while the likes of MySport, Murt Walsh Menswear, Modern Fashions, J’Adore Boutique and others who sell similar items must remain closed.
Either a t-shirt is essential or it isn’t. If it’s essential in Dunnes Stores, then it is surely essential in any of the other clothes shops in the town.
The whole notion of dividing retail items into ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ is evidence of the government’s pettifogging approach to Covid restrictions. The fact that under the current restrictions an ice-cream is considered essential but a pair of trousers is considered non-essential is baffling to say the least.
The crux of the issue here is, it is hard to understand why the situation is different in Dunnes Stores than for small independent locally owned shops. Of course Dunnes Stores provide great employment for the local area, but so do local independent shops.
For the avoidance of doubt, this author is not calling for Dunnes to be forced to stop selling clothes, but rather that businesses who sell similar items be permitted to re-open.
The famous ‘middle aisle’ in Lidl and Aldi also appear to have made a return following a brief suspension.
When contacted about the matter, a spokesperson for Enniscorthy Chamber of Commerce said the following:
“We are aware of the problem and have received numerous complaints. We have made representations to the appropriate authorities and we are still awaiting a response.”
A local retailer had the following to say:
“My business has been closed for months now. We must have a level playing field. Currently the playing field is far from level. We have been forced to close, while big supermarkets are selling the same items that we are currently banned from selling.”
This leads me to pose a final question. One of the following statements must be true:
1. Dunnes are selling clothing in contravention of the Covid restrictions
2. Dunnes are operating within the rules and other shops selling the same type of clothing have been incorrectly ordered to close.
WexfordToday will continue to investigate this issue further, in order to establish which of the above two statements is true.
Please note: Having been instructed by Enniscorthy staff to direct any further queries to head office, we contacted Dunnes Stores head office by phone. We were told there was no one available to answer our query and that we would have to send an email to customer services. We received the following automated response to our email:
We will update our story if any further response is received.