Closure of two family firms gives us pause for thought

BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT CONSULTANT, and PRESIDENT GALWAY CHAMBER

It is always a day for reflection when a long-established family business closes its doors for the last time. When two shut on the same weekend, it really gives pause for thought.

Deacy’s Fish Shop on High Street and Griffin’s Bakery at the bottom of Shop Street have been near neighbours for a couple of generations. They have been part of Galway’s retail landscape for longer than most of us can remember.

Mike Deacy and Jimmy Griffin decided to shut their businesses recently and locked their doors for the last time on Saturday and Monday respectively.

It is a sad day for the staff, many of whom have worked with them for a long time and some of whom may have to find other jobs.

It is also a sad day for their customers who will have to go further for their fish or fresh bread. In the case of that brilliant conflation of bakery and the marine – the Conger Loaf – it won’t be seen again.

They were melancholy days for both families as well, I’m sure. There are years of family memories associated with both premises, many handed down over generations others freshly minted in this one.

Deacy’s and Griffin’s join a long line of family businesses which have disappeared from our main streets, such as Raftery’s, Glynn’s, O’Gorman’s, Naughton’s and McDonogh’s although several live on in other guises.

Change is inevitable, progress is not.

Changes in our shopping habits, urban sprawl, retail business models, and consumer preferences all add to the many pressures on retailers. It’s a very demanding and challenging sector to navigate successfully right now.

It’s hugely different to the environment both faced when they took on responsibility for the family businesses decades ago. They have adapted and survived through those decades, until now.

Sometimes it is easier to continue to do something that you have always done. It’s much more uncomfortable and riskier to change direction, to do something new in business as well as in life.

Both Jimmy Griffin and Mike Deacy should be commended for keeping their businesses going for so long and for having the courage to make these decisions while within their gift.

While we lament their closure we should recognise that no family businesses last forever. There comes a time when the next generation doesn’t want to take on the family mantle. And that’s alright.

We’re lucky in Galway to still have notable family-owned businesses such as Anthony Ryan’s, Powell’s, Faller’s, Hartmann’s, Logue’s, Colleran’s and others, making the city’s retail offering unique.

A challenge for Galway is to try to retain sufficient independent, local retailers on our streets to distinguish us from other towns and cities.

We may not be able to replace these two businesses like-for-like, but we must find some way of encouraging unique retailers – in any sector – to supersede them, at least numerically.

We have a vibrant food sector in Galway and new local, artisanal suppliers are emerging regularly. While nothing will directly replace either Griffin’s or Deacy’s, the opening of the Galway Food Market on Market Street next Spring will provide opportunities for these newcomers and others.

Every long-established family business had to start sometime and somewhere. It’s quite possible that we’ll see one or more long-lived family enterprise emerge from this sector, which future generations will regard in the same way we do the current standard bearers.

A unique, diverse retail experience is part of Galway’s attraction and the business groups must work with City Council to see how this can be preserved and expanded in our city centre.

Change is inevitable, progress is not. We need to work together to make progress, not just changes.

 

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