August 2: Sad closure is symptomatic of city malaise

THERE was something terribly sad about this week’s closure of Helene Modes, the city-centre boutique which withstood many different challenges in more than five decades at the heart of fashion retail in the city centre. Here was a shop that in its day drew legions of fashion-conscious ladies from all over Limerick and indeed beyond. The sadness over its demise was, of course, most keenly felt by owners Terence and Sheila Cusack and their employees. For them, Helene Modes was both a living and a way of life. Alas, the Cusacks have joined a lengthening list of family business owners who have been forced to shut the doors of landmark Limerick stores. Each one is – in its way – a personal tragedy, especially when the businesses have been part of the fabric of local life for generations.

THERE was something terribly sad about this week’s closure of Helene Modes, the city-centre boutique which withstood many different challenges in more than five decades at the heart of fashion retail in the city centre. Here was a shop that in its day drew legions of fashion-conscious ladies from all over Limerick and indeed beyond. The sadness over its demise was, of course, most keenly felt by owners Terence and Sheila Cusack and their employees. For them, Helene Modes was both a living and a way of life. Alas, the Cusacks have joined a lengthening list of family business owners who have been forced to shut the doors of landmark Limerick stores. Each one is – in its way – a personal tragedy, especially when the businesses have been part of the fabric of local life for generations.

The decline in fortunes for Helene Modes is most likely attributable to a number of factors, not least the economic recession that devastated the disposable income of so many would-be customers, and the move towards online shopping. But it is also symptomatic of the collapse in footfall in the city centre itself. During the early decades of its time as a high-quality fashion retailer based in Roches Street, Helene Modes could count on the custom of a great many county women who weren’t afraid to spend a few quid on the latest looks. For that reason, its demise is likely to be regretted just as much in Kilmallock and Cappamore as it has been this week among former customers based in the city and its suburbs.

In the same week that the shop closed, a fund was set up by city-centre retailers to oppose plans for the Horizon Mall shopping centre on the Dublin Road, which has been the subject of sustained comment on this page. Retailers based in the city who see a local institution like Helene Modes following so many others out of business have every reason to fear the consequences of a development conceived on the same kind of scale as the successful Crescent Shopping Centre. If it were to go ahead the number of city centre closures would assuredly multiply. Nobody likes to see the ugly spectre of this abandoned development, but we must get our priorities right.

The urgent fast-tracking of plans to revive the city centre and provide shoppers from around the Mid-West with more compelling reasons to pay a visit cannot be underestimated. The Limerick 2030 plan has much to admire, but the city will be effectively closed for business if it has to wait that long for the dynamic measures needed to prevent more of the sadness that attended this week’s bad news.

The Limerick City Business Association is quite right to mobilise against the Horizon Mall plans.

No doubt, the closure of this iconic store will lead to a show of unity that is needed to ensure the city is defended vigorously from another out-of-town threat.