Shop local and help keep our communities alive and interesting

With the summer emitting its death rattle and the leaves falling off the trees, we are entering that time of the year when things slow down before they then plunge headlong into Christmas.

This year more than any other year, this period is crucial for the businesses that make the places we live all the more interesting. Between now and Christmas, we can make the differenc in ensuring that they survive.

Galway has had a good summer, boosted by the Volvo Ocean Race, the Film Fleadh, the Arts Festival, the races, not to forget the two oyster festivals — so compared to other parts of the country, we cannot complain.

But now is the real test for our businesses. With the banks still sitting on their safe keys, local businesses are being slowly starved of the oxygen, ie capital, they need to survive.

And this is where we come in. And we can start by protecting local jobs and local community spirit.

Every year or so, you see the appeals for people to shop local. They are normally fuelled by business organisations acting in tandem on behalf of their clients. And because they have become so commonplace, the plea to shop local often falls on deaf ears and is seen as just another needless plea from an avaricious business community.

However this time the appeal is different, because the decisions we take in the next days, months, year will determine whether many of these businesses will survive. In all of our communities, whether it is in Galway city, or in the many towns and villages through the county, the businesses that have popped up have made all of those places better places to be. There is something nice about the greater choice we have been given. There are nice shops, restaurants, cafes, and businesses in all of our communities. We all like living where we do because of this great mix and we cannot now allow the work of generations to crumble.

How many years has it taken to create the communities we all live in? Think back to the seventies and eighties, when all there was was the corner shop. And the choice was ‘take it or leave it’.

If these businesses go to the wall now, then our entire communities start to unravel and it could be another generation or two before they get back to where they were.

We all hear the anecdotal evidence of how much you can save across the border, but travelling to Newry or to IKEA every week to stock up at Iceland or ASDA is not sustainable, and with the differential between sterling and the euro set to decrease, that option will become less and less viable.

Of course, the success of shop local campaigns does not rest solely on the shoulders of consumers. It is incumbent on the businesses to look at themselves, too, and to ensure that customer service is better than it is, that staff are trained in the basics of good manners and don’t grunt an answer at you; that waiting staff don’t try their best to avoid eye contact; and that shop layouts are inviting and don’t look more like storerooms than places to browse and buy. Last week we all celebrated with Anthony Ryans as they marked a century in business. Let us ensure that such longevity is bestowed on all our businesses.

This recession is taking us back to basics, but let us try to hold on to much of what we have so that recovery will be that much easier when it comes a year or two from now. This week and every week, help the process by supporting those businesses that form the heart of your community. Just a little bit can help a lot.

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