LIMERICK city is expected to see its brightest and most magical festive season ever as eager shoppers, citywide stores and the local authorities ready themselves for the switching on this year’s Christmas lights.
At 5pm on Saturday, November 23, the city will be lit up with Christmas colours and retailers from every corner of the city will look forward to welcoming an influx of present purchasers.
On top of that, Mayor Kathleen Leddin has unveiled a string of exclusive events to mark a special time of year, including the launch of the Christmas lights where Limerick’s biggest fully-lit tree will be erected.
To mark its 10th anniversary, Limerick On Ice is working with Iarnród Éireann to offer commuters from Thurles, Ennis and Limerick Junction up to 30% off a skate around the Arthur’s Quay ice rink.
Another incentive to welcome people to the city centre is the introduction of free parking up to midday during December. It is not all business in Limerick city. Between Cruises Street and Bedford Row, musical entertainment and carol singing will warm up the Christmas spirits each Saturday, leading up to the holiday.
And for the kids, from Sunday November 24 onwards, Santa will join Mrs Claus and his elves at a special Log Cabin on Thomas Street, where he will sit down with the children to help them with their wish lists.
“Christmas is the most magical time of the year, the most magical time of the year for children in particular. What we have set about this year is to create a mood and atmosphere in the city that will give those children, and indeed their parents, a special Christmas memory for the rest of their lives and one that will ensure they come back to us year after year,” Mayor Leddin said.
The magic is not just for consumers; retailers are already optimistic this year, which comes as a surprise to Limerick Chamber of Commerce chief executive, Maria Kelly.
“Speaking to retailers around the city, they say they have noticed a lift this year. The early budget would have had an impact on how they would operate, but overall the retailers are feeling quite optimistic about Christmas shopping this year. From what I am seeing, it promises to be a successful year.
“When speaking to some of the retailers, they say November is usually a poor month in terms of Christmas shopping, but they said they have seen a huge buzz this year. Even with the torrential rainfall, Limerick was still very busy.”
She added that shopping habits have changed since Ireland has been in recession, though people are still spending the same amount of money year after year.
“People are doing two things this time round. They are shopping online, so if retailers want people to come into their stores, they will need to move online as well. The second thing is that people are comparing prices online before going into the shops. But despite five years in recession, the amount of money people spend on Christmas hasn’t changed a bit.”
General manager of Brown Thomas, Liam Dwan shares a similar theory on this year’s Christmas shoppers and feels that people are being more strategic about buying gifts for loved ones.
“People are not leaving it to the last minute like other years. They are shopping a bit earlier, too, so they are getting what they want; ensuring that it’s the right colour, right size, etc. Because when you are shopping for a loved one, or even for yourself, you want to make sure you get the right thing, and I think that’s what people are going to be doing this year. I think there is a lot more research being put into shopping by the people,” he explained, adding that things will start to speed up for city centre shopping next week.
Mr Dwan is one of the many store managers citywide who is optimistic about this year. He told the Limerick Leader that there is a great Christmas atmosphere in all floors of Brown Thomas, which is situated in the heart in the city’s shopping thoroughfare.
“From our point of view, we really want to welcome the people, and this year we have done that and we have made the extra effort with the lights and the windows. I think it all adds to the Christmas experience in the city centre. But really, this is all part of the magic of the season. We are all upbeat and prepared for Christmas. We have new exciting brands and we have old favourites, too - we have so much to offer to the city centre this year.”
He added that the “magic” of the season is all in their new window display, which depicts themes based on classic ballets, such as Swan Lake.
Matthew Stephens is another fortunate store that has put in the extra effort into decorating the shop’s exterior. Managing director Matthew Ryan praised its finishing touches and said they wanted to “bring a little bit of Bond Street to Limerick” with the Harrods-inspired luxury design.
He said he hopes the new design adds to the “festive buzz” and that it attracts “ooohs and aaahs” over the next few weeks.
“We looked at the decorations as a long term investment and it outlines our commitment to Limerick city centre and our belief that together, with the local retailers working collectively, we can all make a difference and gradually make Limerick the booming city it deserves to be.”
Mr Ryan said if local people shop in local businesses, they will be reinvesting in Limerick city’s future success.
“There are so many fantastic things happening in the city and the future is very bright. The best is definitely yet to come, but the city businesses need the support of each and every person from Limerick and surrounding area, in order to make Limerick the thriving city that we all want it to be.
“I think that we also need to make it not just a 100% Irish Christmas, but a 100% Limerick Christmas, too. If we are spending money on gifts over the coming weeks – we need to ensure that we support our local Limerick owned and run stores - whether its jewellery or watches, ladies or gents clothing, shoes, cosmetics and perfumes, toys, sportswear or travel agent, whatever the gift. We all need to make that simple little effort to ask: ‘Can I buy this from a Limerick owned store?’ Then to shop locally; not in Dublin, Cork or Galway or businesses from these cities as we need to keep the money in Limerick for future investment in our great city,” he explained.
City and County Council manager Conn Murray said the they wanted to “really push the boat out” to make this year’s Christmas festivities “the most memorable” the city has ever experienced.
“We are investing significantly in a range of activities and attractions that will not alone create a super atmosphere but will also encourage greater numbers of shoppers to come to Limerick in the month leading up to Christmas. Our traders deserve this, the people of Limerick deserve this, as indeed do the visitors who will take time out to come and enjoy the special sense of Christmas that we are creating here this festive season,” he said.
The celebrations will lead all the way to a climactic finish when the Limerick City of Culture 2014 makes its debut on New Year’s Eve, which will feature a light parade, family activities and a concert outside City Hall.