Every two years the conference of the European Association for Education and Research in Commercial Distribution (EAERCD) comes around. Now in its 19th incarnation, this academic conference attracts retail scholars from across the globe to present and discuss their latest research and the state of retailing. The latest version took place recently in Dublin, hosted by the Dublin Institute of Technology (and a very fine job of it they did too).
Whilst it is tempting to talk about the various papers presented, the social events and the deep, meaningful discussions on retail, I am not going to. Instead I want to reflect mainly on one store, the changing nature of retailing and the historical legacy that survives. Dublin seems to be a good place to do this, as it appears to continue to value its built heritage, especially in its pubs and some of its shops.
On a walking excursion around the retailing of Dublin, my eye was drawn to the old Burton’s store on Dame Street, not too far from the DIT conference site. It is the corner building with much of the external features, including the sign and balconies still visible. It is of course no longer Burton’s, but it is a fine remembrance of a previous era. As the pictures show it must have been magnificent in its prime.
A quick Google search found the following description on the archiseek website :
The former Burton’s Store on the corner of Dame and South Great George’s Streets is one of the most expressive and exciting facades in the city. Built between 1928 and 1930, it is a good example of a restrained Art Deco building designed by Harry Wilson from Leeds.
Clad in faience tiles and with a wonderfully coloured roof, the building was in the tradition of Dublin ‘corner-turning’ buildings with its similar facades along both streetscapes. Every detail has been designed to promote Burtons: from the elaborate signage near the roof to the meticuously detailed air vents (with their Burton’s logo) underneath the main shop windows. The facade is incredibly detailed with moulded ornamental capitals, window surrounds and decorative cornice.
The pictures provide evidence of these details. if you want more wonderful Burton’s detailing and stores and are on Twitter then take a look at @LaidByMonty
Nowadays, as the pictures also show, it is a Spar convenience store. Even then however the heritage is recognised, if perhaps not celebrated. The Spar interior has panels about the Burton building, but they are not readable due to merchandise proximity and general difficulty to read. This is a shame, but perhaps understandable. Whilst sad to see the history ignored, at least the building is in use and the exterior mainly kept. In passing it is also a great Spar store and its story can be found here.
Just up from the Burton’s was the South City Market/Georges Street Arcade. This from the outside was a fine building as well, covering a large block of land. But, despite marketing itself as ‘Europe’s first shopping centre’, inside was a bit of a retail disappointment. No longer a food market it is a cluttered style alleyway of uninspiring outlets. But looking at the core architecture one can see what it might have been. Why though can such spaces not find proper market uses in many cases?
Finally, across the road from the market/arcade, I spotted workers fitting out a shop. As the picture shows the fascia was fabulous. I tweeted the picture below, with the hope that the fascia survives the development. It deserves to and is a fine addition to Dublin’s heritage. Little known to me, this fascia had been mentioned in public for a few days before and on the day I saw it was featured in a piece in the Times. A version is also available here and the website Dublin Ghost Signs is well worth a visit.
But then, much to my surprise and delight, I was tweeted the picture below by the shop owner. What a great find and also so good to see the heritage being valued.
The Burton store – and these other buildings, fascias and artefacts – speak of a time when retail was being built, and built to last. The contrast to today’s efforts is dramatic, and one hopes that in future we do try to present and provide spaces that enthrall and enchant rather than simply sell stuff. We need more of the best visions of the past, not less.