In Boston, tourism officials and retailers are welcoming the Irish — who increasingly regard shopping in America as their favorite pastime — with open arms, promising a mix of discounts, convenience, and friendly service that is winning over many shoppers.
And why not? Ireland’s booming economy has produced a surplus of ready cash, and the euro-dollar exchange rate gives the Irish added value for shopping, especially for designer clothing, which is expensive to buy in Ireland.
“Boston simply loves Irish visitors, and the visitors tell us they really appreciate the good feeling they get in our city,” said Larry Meehan, spokesman for the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, which has actively beckoned the Irish to “come on over.”
It’s not uncommon for Boston hotel managers to personally greet shopping groups in the lobby and offer special perks. Store managers put out cheese platters and supply bottled water. The visitor bureau posts shopping specials and exchange rates on its Web site, www.bostonusa.com, and distributes conversion charts for clothing and shoe sizes.
Aer Lingus reports strong passenger daily traffic from Dublin and Shannon to Boston’s Logan Airport, and American Airlines is running out of Shannon five days a week. Many Irish are pleased by the reception they receive upon arrival.
“We were struck by how friendly everyone was,” said Mary McGrath, a Dubliner now living in Belfast who came to Boston for a three-day trip in November with five of her Dublin friends.
McGrath was also impressed by the convenience. The group took an Aer Lingus flight from Dublin and was at Boston’s Logan Airport less than six hours later. From the airport it was just another 20 minutes to the Lenox Hotel in Boston’s Back Bay, the heart of the city’s shopping district.
They quickly discovered Newbury Street, the swank, upscale shopping area where they found “non-generic” clothes they couldn’t get back home. They visited Copley Place and went across the Charles River to Cambridge, where they checked out Abercrombie and Fitch in Harvard Square for their children.
“Every morning we met in one of the hotel rooms with a cup of Barry’s tea and planned our shopping strategy,” McGrath said.
How did Boston compare to other cities?
“The consensus was that Boston was a much easier place to shop, and a much more pleasant place to visit,” McGrath said.
That experience extends beyond the city and into the Massachusetts heartland, which also vies actively for Irish shoppers. A big destination for the Irish is Wrentham Village Premium Outlet, about 35 miles south of Boston, which has 170 outlet stores, including Reebok, Tommy Hilfiger and Gap, American brand names that Irish shoppers covet.
“Irish groups have been coming here for almost eight years,” said Susan Bladd, marketing manager at Wrentham. “We love to see them, they’re so appreciative. One repeat shopper brought me a box of chocolates from Ireland.”
Many of the Irish groups coming to Wrentham are organized by Linda O’Brien of Limerick, who brings in groups of 20 to 40 women at a time. They often arrive with empty suitcases that they fill with American brand-name clothing for their children. They are affectionately known as the Ladies from Limerick, and have been featured in the Boston Globe and Boston Herald.
Bladd greets the group with a cheese platter upon arrival and then supplies them with bottled water as the shopping marathon gets underway. She gives over her conference room to the ladies to store the shopping bags and continue their trek.
“They are serious about shopping,” Bladd said. “One woman came over with a template of her children’s feet so she could get the right sizes of shoes.”
The Limerick Ladies have impacted the local Irish community too, said Seamus Mulligan, an Offaly native who owns a chain of Irish Cottage Gift Shops throughout New England and has lived in the area for over three decades.
On a recent trip to Wrentham Village, Mulligan was amused to be heartily welcomed to America by the friendly staff.
“If you have an Irish accent, people assume you’ve just arrived from Ireland to shop,” he said. “They’ll come up to you and say, ‘Oh, when did you get in?'”
Shopping for Tourists
Tourism officials understand that shopping has emerged as one of the amenities visitors seek when they go abroad, along with cuisine, nightlife, scenic beauty and cultural activities.
“In the USA, retail shopping has become a permanent sale, because American consumers are always looking for a deal, and they don’t want to pay inflated prices,” said William MacDougall, head of Tourism Massachusetts.
“Guess what? The foreign visitor is looking for a deal too, and that’s why so many shoppers are coming to the states,” he said.
MacDougall, whose agency promotes the state’s international tourist outreach program, led a delegation to Ireland this fall to meet with tour operators and travel agencies to pitch Massachusetts.
As a visitor destination, “we must give visitors a memorable experience,” said MacDougall.
Trying to distinguish Boston from New York City is always a challenge, since the Big Apple has long been considered the best shopping destination for the Irish and other international visitors.
Meehan believes that perception is changing, especially among the Irish, citing a litany of advantages that Boston offers.
For one thing, Boston is more manageable than New York City, and has the feel of a European city.
Known as a walking city, Boston’s compactness is an advantage to shoppers in town for a couple of days, he said.
“We have 1,000 plus shops packed with name brand products along a 17-stop Boston Trolley Tour, so there is no need to rent a car or take a taxi, though those are certainly options.”
There is no sales tax on clothing in Massachusetts, Meehan says, whereas New York shoppers must pay over 8 percent in taxes on clothes. That gives Irish and British shoppers an even bigger value for their euros and sterling.
He points out that Boston is an hour closer to Ireland, giving visitors more time on the ground. And the airport is closer to downtown than the New York equivalents.
For those shoppers heading to the suburban outlets, the Boston Common Coach operates a daily round trip shopping shuttle from all major hotels to Wrentham Village.
And visitors interested in connecting with the local cultural community, the Boston Irish Tourism Association lists upcoming concerts, theater, festivals and other activities on its web site, www.irishmassachusetts.com.
Aside from retailers, the biggest beneficiary of the Irish shopping treks is the hotel industry, which offers a variety of packages and special perks to lure the Irish to stay overnight.
“We’re rolling out the green carpet,” is the advertising slogan of the Millennium Bostonian Hotel, located next to Faneuil Hall shopping center in downtown Boston, with prices starting at $169 a night.
The Doubletree Hotel on Washington Street near Boston’s Theater District has long been a favorite place for Irish shoppers. Owner Joseph Corcoran is a well-known Irish American, and General Manager Robert Newman is a native of County Kildare with good contacts in the hospitality industry.
The hotel’s central location gives Irish shoppers options to enjoy the city’s nightlife, and is also close to the Downtown Crossing shopping district.
The new Jurys Boston Hotel on Berkeley Street in Back Bay gets a good flow of shoppers coming to town on popular city break packages, according to GM Stephen Johnston.
Jurys offers a $299 a night special (double occupancy) that includes a complimentary Irish breakfast, roundtrip shuttle to the Wrentham outlets, a free VIP coupon book, a locker to store the goods, and a complimentary Irish coffee or cocktail upon returning to Jurys.
For shoppers who need to be rejuvenated before returning home, Jurys offers its Exhale Spa package, which includes king size bedroom, yoga classes, massage and facial for just $365 a night.
Tourism officials like MacDougall and Meehan said that over the next few months Massachusetts would be a fantastic destination for shoppers, with Christmas season followed by major sales from January to March. They’ll continue to roll out the green carpet, in hopes that Irish visitors like Mary McGrath and her friends will want to come back.
Said McGrath: “We definitely plan to go back to Boston.”
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Contacts for visiting Massachusetts
Boston Irish Tourism Association
www.irishmassachusetts.com / 617-696-9880
Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau
www.bostonusa.com / 617-536-4100
www.usamass.com / 617-542-0015
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www.shopsimon.com / 617-262-6600
Faneuil Hall Marketplace
Wrentham Village Premium Outlets
www.premiumoutlets.com/wrentham / 877-723-3833
Doubletree Hotel Boston
Jurys Boston Hotel
Millennium Bostonian Hotel
www.millenniumhotels.com / 617-523-3600
www.lenoxhotel.com / 617-421-4905