Remember local shops, urges Castlebar Chamber president as restrictions begin to ease

This week has seen phase two of the easing of restrictions in Ireland and the reopening of a number of businesses around the county as the country starts to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Getting people back to shopping in their local stores is the biggest challenge facing businesses, according to the president of Castlebar Chamber, John Mulroy. Speaking to the Mayo Advertiser yesterday he said: "I think it has been steady by all means. I think it is about 50 per cent of what it used to be, town seems busy enough but it might be more for traffic than foot traffic.

"Certain places are doing well, but the biggest threat is online shopping. More and more people are getting comfortable with online shopping and some of our local business have done well out of it and adapted because they could, but for other businesses it is not possible to do online. Where it was a big competitor before it is even bigger now, it is good for some Castlebar businesses - but for the high street and small shops it is a big threat."

Mr Mulroy was keen to urge people when choosing to do their shopping to remember their local shops who provide much more to the community than just goods. "It is to get back to a normality and habit, it can become a habit to shop online and it is convenient but we also have to think of the benefits of going into your town and shopping locally," he said.

"They employ your son or daughter, they give you a spot prize for a competition, they pay rates to develop the town and county, with empty buildings towns are only going to get depleted - it is to get people back in the habit of coming in. But businesses need to realise to that if a customer does come in they feel safe in the shop.

"Fundamentally, if the businesses don't get people in the door and spend money they won't survive, so it is up to the people in Castlebar and towns around the county again to look after the towns.

"The people in Castlebar have been very loyal and I think they will be again. The Mayo people and the Irish people have been brilliant throughout all this, but if they can't come out one more time and support the local businesses they won't be there on the high street, the big name brands will survive and the small ones won't."

Getting businesses back up and running has been challenging and it is an uncertain time, he added. "I have been talking to a lot of businesses and I know myself there is a lot of regulation and it is scary out there for businesses, there are a lot of costs people have to look into and people are wondering will I get these costs back and is it worthwhile opening.

"The back to work grant, a lot have said, has been a great help, because there have been a lot of costs in closing down and opening up and that took a bit of a sting out, and most business have applied for that."

Mr Mulroy's own business is in the hospitality sector, and with restrictions easing in that area at the end of the month they can open, but there are many in the sector who are unsure when is the right time to reopen. "Talking to a lot of the restaurants they are kind of deciding, it is well and good you can open at the end of the month - we got the guidelines the last day and that is pages and pages of guidelines that you have to look at, look at the costs and think, well, if I open at this time, will there be a second wave, will people actually come in and balance that and decide yourself, not everyone will open at the end of this month, will it be July or August and every business will need to decide for themselves.

"In the hospitality sector some have adapted and done deliveries. The two metre rule, if it stays, I can't see many opening for sit down, because unless you have a big huge function room it wouldn't be worthwhile, because most restaurants and gastro pubs wouldn't have that kind of space and it might not be feasible for them to do so."

Castlebar Chamber has been very active during the Covid-19 lockdown and over the past few weeks has been running a number of online seminars to help businesses as they go about their plans to reopen. Explaining what they have been about Mr Mulroy said: "We had our second web workshop on Wednesday and it went very well. It was on HR so we had a lecturer from GMIT on HR, Martin Cosgrove, head of HR in Baxter, and they have been working the whole way through Covid-19 and it is great for businesses that are opening up to see what they reckon the problems could be, and we had someone from the Educational Training Board to tell us what courses they are running.

"The week before we had a health and safety one, which was very practical for people to see what needed to be done before they are opening up. Next week we have one coming up on sales and they are available for anyone to watch back. All they have to do is email the chamber officer at [email protected] and we will send them out to people if they can't make it themselves when they are on."


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