Walking around parts of Belfast one afternoon last week, I was half expecting the tumbleweed to come rolling down the street.
The usually thronged city centre was virtually deserted, with non-essential shops shuttered because of the lockdown, some temporarily, some for good.
Traffic in normally busy streets was quiet, even though signs told us that roads had been narrowed to enable social distancing. From what?
Parking spaces, invariably hard to find, were a dime a dozen.
While there were brave attempts by some business folk to cheer us up with glittering Christmas decorations, the mood among the masked shoppers in town seemed decidedly downbeat. Despondent, even.
Then came the news that put a tin hat on the gloom, with confirmation that the troubled Debenhams chain was closing all 124 stores in the UK, with the loss of 12,000 jobs, after failing to find a buyer.
The retail trade was already reeling in the wake of the announcement the day before that Philip Green's Arcadia Group was going into administration, with a similar number of job losses in the likes of Topshop, Miss Selfridge and Wallis.
I'm old enough to remember the way Belfast used to be, with a raft of department stores including Robinson and Cleaver, Brands and Normans, Anderson and McAuley and the Bank Buildings.
They were stores that were beloved of my mother. She used to spend hours pottering about them and meeting friends for interminable coffees and chats, though she was never particularly fond of other places such as Arnott's, Littlewoods, Woolworths and British Home Stores.
One by one, the big shops closed as shopping habits changed and the IRA blew the heart out of Belfast, though they couldn't blow the heart out of its resolute people.
Even so, many potential customers never went near the barrier-ringed city centre, preferring instead to go to out-of-town malls and supermarkets for their shopping.
More peaceful times brought busier times to the centre of Belfast, and massive complexes such as CastleCourt and Victoria Square added an exciting new dimension with names such as Debenhams and House of Fraser.
But Covid-19 has dealt a crippling blow to the retail landscape, and while the Troubles brought out a determination to beat the terrorists, the bombers and gunmen were in some ways easier to withstand than this cursed coronavirus pandemic.
Sadly, news of shop closures and downturns in manufacturing, transport, the arts and hospitality has become so routine that it's often difficult to focus on the premature end of people's livelihoods behind the headlines.
While I bemoan the ripping asunder of the retail sector, I'm like the thousands of other people who let their fingers do the walking around the computer keyboard rather than let our feet roam physical outlets to fulfil our shopping needs.
It's so easy to order something, anything or everything online from Amazon and the like and find it on your doorstep the very next day.
It's hard to imagine ever getting back to the old norms of shopping, but get back we will because we have to.
Beleaguered city and town centres across Northern Ireland mustn't be allowed to wither and die. We must ensure that the online revolution is only part of the evolution of shopping.
Virtual shopping doesn't really cut the mustard in quite the same way as lingering and looking at physical things in shops and trying them on to confirm that they fit.
I'm not the world's most enthusiastic shopper. While I gurned about my mother dragging me around Belfast during my youth, and my wife trailing me around the city in my later years, I have to quietly admit to a secret pleasure and pride in seeing the centre thronged, especially at Christmas.
I never thought I would miss battling my way around the Christmas market at City Hall, but you don't really long for something until you can't have it, like over-priced and thankfully over-sized bratwursts smothered in crispy onions and brown sauce.
I can't wait until I can enjoy once again the ritual of looking for Christmas gifts in St George's Market without having to worry about coronavirus.
But the reality is that things are going to get worse before they get better. More workers are going to find themselves on the receiving end of bad news.
If you don't really believe how devastating the crisis has been, I suggest you have a look at the list of closures posted on the Retail Gazette website.
You'll be horrified when you remember just how much you've forgotten.