POST PANDEMIC SHOPPING
I did it, I braved my first trip to a shopping centre in months. Not a sentence I would ever have imagined myself writing with such gusto but these are strange times we're living in and these sorts of milestones need to be noted.
I'll be honest, I felt a sense of euphoria hopping into the car, destination Blanchardstown Centre. After months of flirting with my local Dunnes, Tesco and Lidl, there was something exciting about the prospect of queuing endlessly in a new space.
Pulling into the carpark, I had a sense of hope that maybe this wouldn't be as bad as I'd conjured up in my mind, the number of free spaces assuring me the centre would allow for some breathing space inside.
Sure enough, it wasn't too packed upon setting foot in the door but that all changed within the hour and before I knew it I was itching to get out, fast! Had I not needed to pick up presents for loved ones, I would have held off going altogether but as they say, needs must, and so I persevered clutching my hand sanitiser.
There's an undeniably strange feeling walking around Blanchardstown in our 'new normal'. For one, that garish yellow signage is everywhere, a constant reminder that things aren't quite as they were. There are floor markings all over the place too, alerting you to a one-way system for getting in and out of shops and making your way around the centre.
Each store has its own designated queueing system too, although at first it just looks like a massive jungle of barriers and people standing a bit too close together for comfort. Some shops had massive queues (Penney's, H&M, Bershka) which I avoided intentionally, others had none at all and you could pretty much swan in (Rituals, Boots, BT2, M&S clothes department) although I may have just struck it lucky with my timing (2:30pm).
I did queue up for River Island and noticed one thing, although the line was considerably shorter than the likes of Penney's (which was monstrous much to my despair as I would greatly appreciate a pyjama haul), you'll find yourself waiting around much longer because the floor area is considerably smaller. I heard a young man working there explain to some disgruntled customers that they can only allow 28 people into the shop at once between the two levels.
Once inside, you're free to roam. I didn't notice much else different other than perspex glass at the till, a sanitising station at the door and those stickers on the ground encouraging you to keep your distance. Due to the small number of people allowed inside, browsing was a pleasant experience. The changing rooms was closed and I impulsively bought a dress on sale (and those pressies) without bothering to try it on.
This was much the case in M&S and other stores which I have to admit are chaos-free once inside. For me, it was the main halls of the shopping centre I found a bit overwhelming (seems 'social distancing' means something different to everyone) and the endless queueing which you have to go mentally prepared for.
Not everywhere is open in Blanchardstown either. Plenty of stores are keeping their shutters down for the time being including Zara, Parfois, Aldo and a number of other shops along the way. I've yet to venture there myself but I have good word Dundrum Town Centre is much the same with Next and Harvey Nichols closed for the foreseeable.
As for Ikea? I went there last weekend about 6:15pm and the queues were never-ending. A determined soul, I waited it out in the car (with my very patient boyfriend) listening to music for an hour until the line petered out approaching closing time. I joined the queue about 7:20pm and was inside by 7:40pm giving me 20 frantic minutes to find what I needed before closing. The staff were wonderful and didn't rush anyone along, something I made sure to let them know I was very grateful more.
My advice when it comes to the ye olde shopping centre is to stick to online shopping for another few weeks, unless of course, curiosity is really getting the better of you/you really need to pick up certain bits. If you're going to brave it, weekday mornings are best. Write a list so you know exactly what you're looking for when you're there - you'll save yourself precious time this way!