Chamber anxious as local businesses continue to close

The President of Mullingar’s Chamber of Commerce is calling on shoppers to keep their business in the town to save local jobs.

The call comes after a highly detailed survey revealed that Mullingar’s retail trade is being decimated by the recession.

Traditionally one of the Midland’s strongest market towns, it has seen the loss of 50 businesses, mostly retail and more than 100 jobs since the downturn hit.

“We are calling on people to remain in this town with their few pounds,” says Paul O’Brennan.

“Every time they move out to shop they are risking another local job which eventually turns around to hit their own pockets.”

He says a cousin, friend or family member “could lose a job by people shopping outside town”.

The survey of 357 ground floor companies in the Westmeath county town showed that three areas are of particular concern, with 22 businesses lost in the 12 months to July 15 this year.

Austin Friar Street saw nine firms close their doors, with eight closed on Dominick Street and a further five shut on Castle Street.

Paul O’Brennan says one of the measures which has received greatest support since the report was publicised is a call on councils to freeze commercial rates to prevent a further haemorrhaging of jobs. “This suggestion in particular seemed to get quite positive feedback,” he said.

This would mean placing a moratorium on those rates for the first year for new businesses to attract them to the town, an incentive that wouldn’t be available to them in Dublin or Athlone, for example.

He says new businesses looking at setting up in Mullingar may see that as a decisive factor and that councils will feel the benefit of the short term loss the following year – “that way, everyone benefits”.

He says there are reports that traders on one street are writing a letter to the council to complain about the bad publicity received by the area following publication of the survey’s contents.

However he is quick to add that publicity has resulted in contact from three or four businesses looking to set up on that street in vacant premises.

“Some people are always looking on the dark side. We have to stop.”

The possibility of cutting rates is popular among trader0;s however, he says they accept that this is “not realistic. The council has to exist”.

The survey shows that VAT and cheaper prices in the north make little difference to Mullingar consumers who want more selection, more mid-range shops to choose from.

While they’re delighted with “fantastic” high end shops and pleased that there are cheaper outlets for groceries, they would like to see more mid-range shops, particularly clothes shops, Mr O’Brennan says.

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