“It was like a light being switched off in a room” — so said the chairman of the Galway City Business Association, Ronnie O'Gorman when describing the speed with which the financial world collapsed, during his address to the group’s AGM on Tuesday night.
While agreeing the situation was serious, and while Christmas will be a busy time for retailers, most traders were looking ahead to the bleak months of February and March with some trepidation.
However, the chairman believed that Galway is far better placed than most other Irish cities not only to weather this storm, but to turn it to our benefit.
“Tthere are two major events next year, in addition to our festivals and races, which will attract large numbers to the city. The Galway International Car Rally (Jan 16 - 18 ) is expected to attract more that 70,000 participants and spectators, and the much heralded Volvo Boat Race in May, which is described as the ‘Formula One of the boat racing world.’
“An amazing 300,000 people are expected over the 10 day event, which will transform the harbour, and give us all many opportunities to exploit this wonderful occasion. I understand that if we do this right, we have every chance that the race will return to Galway in the future,” he said.
BIDS- What it means for the city
In addition to the above he believed that the BIDS ( Business Improvement Districts ) will pay an important role in the promotion of our city.
“The main benefits to traders are that for the first time in our trading history, the stakeholders, will have a say in the presentation of their city.
“It is administered in co-operation with City Hall and the traders. A separate company will be established which will include the city manager, a representative from his staff and a member of the Galway City Council.
“Once a plan is agreed for the improvement and marketing of the city (that plan has to be passed by a plebiscite of every business, trade, and profession within the BIDs area ) every ratepayer will be billed by City Hall for the agreed sum. This means that for the first time every business within the BIDS area will be included, not just the usual suspects! There will be no freebooters!
In a recent development, the chairman announced that the Galway City Business Association was now working in partnership with the Galway Chamber in preparing a BIDs proposal. It is expected that a separate BIDs company will be set up by the end of this year, and a formal BIDs proposal ready to be put to a plebsite towards the middle of next year.
In reviewing the past year, the chairman thanked the city manager Joe McGrath and the community wardens Tom Joyce and his team for the smooth transition of changing the delivery break-off time from 11am back to 10am. He believed it has given the city centre an extra hour’s trading every morning.
The Galway Gluas?
In conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce, the Galway City Business Association spent an informative few days looking at Park ‘n Ride and tram systems in Cambridge and York. The trip was arranged by Frank Fahey TD, and it was comprehensive and interesting. As a result two board members Brendan Holland and Jerry Mc Sweeney have done exceptional work in realising a Gluas system for Galway. They gave an impressive presentation of Gluas to the City Council recently, which gave the project its support.
The chairman told the meeting that he was sure that most agree that customer service in many of our shops and businesses could be improved. Ms Elaine Bright- Jensen, Browne Thomas, has looked at ‘best practice’ for customer care, and has come up with practical steps which if adopted by all of us would standardise customer care, and give Galway a reputation for friendly service. Mr O’Gorman said that he was sorry to report that this is not always the case at present. In order to develop this, he said that it is hoped to devise a training system for every business.
The association was endeavouring to get the Christmas lights up a week earlier this ear, and the official ‘switch-on’ will be on Friday November 28. He also pointed out that last year Lr Abbeygate Street, Forster Street, and Dominick Street were Christmas-lit for the first time. The successful Park ‘n Ride at Ballybrit, will come into operation on December 1, and this very convenient facility will only cost €2 a head.
‘Some shops are letting us down.’
The chairman pointed out that while the association enjoyed an excellent working relationship with the city manager , and Garda Superindendent Tom Curley, we all had a responsibility to ensure that customers and visitors have an enjoyable, relaxed, and satisfying time in our city.
"We must all ensure that the outside of our premises are, at all times, well painted, tidy and welcoming. Some of our shop fronts are shabby, and there are unsightly water marks along some of the walls. These shops are letting us down, and are in contrast to the many fine refurbishments that grace our streets".
"Let’s use Irish, in both our signage and our greetings. People associate the Irish language with Galway and the west. It is unique and part of our heritage, and is there to be used,” he said, adding that businesses should contact Gallimh le Gaeilge for more help in this regard.
He concluded by saying that he strongly believes that despite the bad news on the financial front Galway and the GCBA is ideally placed to give customers a warm welcome and ensure they will come back for more.