Sunday, February 1, 2009

Still traumatised after all these years

There are pivotal points in every person’s life when you know that things will never be the same again. For some, it is the birth of a child or the death of a loved one or the release of a new Lionel Ritchie album. For some people, and my wife was probably one of them, it was the day they walked into the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre and saw that the name Debenhams had replaced their beloved Roches Stores.
To paraphrase The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, well I remember that terrible day when the tears drowned the seats round the fountain. Women sobbed uncontrollably and fumbled in their handbags for tissues, while helpless husbands, uncertain how to act in the face of such a cataclysmic trauma, murmured “There, there” and patted them ineffectually on the shoulder.
It was not as if we spent a lot of money in Roches. Being staunch green followers of St. Bernard, we never shopped for groceries there, although they saved my brother-in-law’s life one time, when they still had two jars of brandy butter on the shelves at 5pm on a Christmas Eve.
Rather it was a store where “the discerning shopper,” as my wife likes to describe herself, could browse happily for hours. “I’m just popping into Roches. See you on Friday,” she would call to me. There was a rumour that one enthusiastic shopper actually collapsed in a Roches one time through starvation and had to be weaned back to health on liquid foods, though this may be just an old discerning shopper’s tale.
Roches, you see, was pitched at just the right level for a department store. It wasn’t cheap and cheerful but it wasn’t exorbitantly expensive like some other shops where you need to take out a loan from the credit union to buy a colander. It was the best place for lampshades and gift items and vied with the also-now-departed All Rooms for household utensils. It had curtains and picture frames and vases and bathroom scales and toasters and whatever you’re having yourself.
Basically it was great for gifts that you didn’t want to spend a fortune on but wanted to make it look as though you had. “A little bit of luxury at affordable prices” is how I would have described it if I had been charged with coming up with an advertising slogan.
And when they had a Sale, my wife often asserted, (and who am I to argue?) it was a Real Sale. None of your €10.00 jumpers imported as a job lot from Indochina. They reduced everything in the store and brought nothing in on special. This was a genuine, no-holds barred, everything in the store sale.
The staff were obviously chosen for their customer skills, rather than for their ability to work a check-out. They didn’t tend to employ eighteen year old young wans who chewed gum and discussed last night’s sexual activity with their fellow members of staff as they served you. Granted, they weren’t always the quickest at taking the order and wrapping up your bathroom scales but you didn’t really mind because the salesperson was personable and attentive.
It was the kind of store where they called you Sir or Madame, the staff obviously undergoing training to differentiate between the two. And you felt that if you accidentally smashed a vase, the manager would apologise to you for displaying the item in such a position where you had no choice but to knock it over.
Roches was always the store that you looked in if they didn’t have it in Dunnes. I often think my wife was secretly glad when she couldn’t find a suitable winter jacket or potato peeler or pair of curtains in Dunnes because then she’d have to go into her belovéd Roches and spend blissful hours sauntering through the departments.
I have to admit I didn’t quite share her enthusiasm for Roches but then again I have an antipathy to most retail outlets. I go into a shop knowing what I want; I buy it and then leave. I don’t do ‘browsing,’ believing that shopping is a purely functional exercise like driving to work or brushing your teeth and is therefore a chore to be completed with as little fuss as possible. Nobody brings the wheelie bin out and meanders with it up and down the drive for an hour or more, I argue, to little avail.
Thus on that fateful day when the Roches sign was seen no more, I sat with her and made earnestly sympathetic, if totally insincere, noises of commiseration. It would have made little difference if I’d recited the Koran – she was inconsolable.
“Come on,” I said. “We’ll have a look around – it mightn’t be too bad.”
Now if Debenhams had opened in some other part of the centre, it’s entirely possible that my wife might have liked it. To my untrained eye, it had similar sorts of things, if slightly more expensive than Roches, and might have served as a reasonable alternative. But the fact that it occupied the same unit as Roches – as of course, it had to, as it bought them out – meant that poor old Debenhams never stood a chance.
It was like your favourite football team going out of existence and another side coming in and playing on the same ground. She didn’t like the lay out, the uniforms, the stock, the tannoy – nothing was right, she said. Why couldn’t it just go back to the way it was?
I believe a lot of people feel the same way. The very sight of the Debenhams name conjures up memories of Roches. It is as if they are resentful towards the new for the demise of the old, as if the evil Mr. Debenham ousted the old and genial Mr. Roche in a vicious coup d’etat and they can’t find it in their heart to forgive him.
A major part of the problem is that there is nowhere for the grieving shopper to come and mourn. There is no headstone saying ‘Here lies Roches Stores – RIP,’ where one can come and lay flowers and say a decade of the rosary. There is no plaque on the wall or a shrine or a garden of remembrance. Shoppers like my wife received no counselling and have had to learn to live with the loss alone.
Feeling strongly that these poor forgotten members of society need a focal point for their grief, I wrote a letter to Cork County Council, asking them if it was in their estimates for 2009 to provide an interpretive centre where pilgrims could go and relive the halcyon days of Roches Stores. They could have video presentations and the girls could dress in that stripy green and navy uniform. I even went as far to suggest that the best place to stage this would be at Roches Point, next to the lighthouse.
I am still awaiting their reply.


Niamh said...

Ahh. I used to be one of those green & navy striped blouse wearers in Blanchardstown. I had left long before it became Debenhams, having left college and gotten a full-time job elsewhere but I do have a soft spot for the oul Roches and was very sad to see it replaced with a soulless ebenhams.
At least for a while the big green 'R' up near the ceiling over the staircase & escalator area remained. A small victory for the Roches fans, at least until it was spotted and removed.
Great post, I enjoyed reading it :)

Peter Goulding said...

Thanks Niamh,

Love the bit about the big green R!!

My wife is completely anti-Debenhams now - she still misses Roches!