The second phase of the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions has seen retail return to Offaly this week with many small businesses excited about having the opportunity to welcome customers back into their premises for the first time in three months.
Geraldine Kennedy, Jerros Boutique, along Main Street, Birr, outlined how her shope will be reopening three days per week, from Thursday to Saturday. Geraldine said they were “committed to ensuring the proper procedures are followed and that the right safety measures are in place” before they opened their doors. All clothing tried on will be steamed and left aside as part of in-store measures while dressing rooms will be sanitised after use. For vulnerable customers, they can book an appointment to have exclusive access to the shop with a family member if they wish. Meanwhile, Geraldine admitted they were a “little nervous but excited to be opening our doors again”.
Breda Purcell from Memory Lane Antiques, Green Street, Birr outlined she was “stressed, excited and frightened” but she was “really looking forward to human interaction”. “Saying hello, giving and receiving a smile. Most of all. Things we all took for granted.” Breda has been working hard to get the balance between “safety first and still be welcoming to everyone, who walks through the door”.
“That is the hardest thing to visualise at times,” according to Breda. However, they have put protective glass in place and sanitising units and informational notices around the shop in Green Street. “It feels a bit more dare, I say it, normal,” she added.
Those at the Stables Birr, Emporium & Town House were also “happy and excited” to reopen and were thankful they were able to do so. However, they were also anxious about “what's been lost and what the future of our business is going to be”. “We are totally dependent on our local and domestic market. Unfortunately, we have not been able to bring all our team back initially and everything will have to be looked at on a weekly basis but hopefully as safety measures are put in place people will be more confident about venturing out and into businesses.”
It is also hoped that consumers in Offaly will stay local as much as possible and keep business in their own towns and villages in light of the huge economic damage which has been caused to retail concerns and small and medium enterprises. And this is something, local TD, Carol Nolan is strongly advocating as the country moves through phase 2.
Speaking to the 'Tribune' this week, Deputy Nolan said: “Prior to the Covid-19 crisis and throughout the period of the ‘lock-down’ I have consistently pushed for a targeted, government supported campaign centred around the ‘Shop Local’ idea.”
“ It is vital that such an approach is adopted if we are to effectively contribute to the regeneration of our local economies. In fact, part of what this crisis has achieved is to make many people acutely aware of what a town or village would actually look like if all local businesses were to be threatened with permanent closure.”
“So, in a sense, what the Covid-19 lockdown has provided us with is a glimpse of a possible future that we must work night and day to avoid becoming a long term reality. To do that, government and Local Authorities must get back to basics. They must remember that well over 90% of all trade in this state occurs within SMEs and micro-enterprises of ten or less employees.”
“That is where the true economic heartbeat of the state and local economies resides. Each year we run the fantastic Tidy Towns competition. Wouldn’t it be great if we had something similar, at a national level, for towns who have done the most to bring about a genuine ‘Shop Local’ spirit?”
“It is time we became far more imaginative about supporting local businesses, because without them, not just the economic life, but also the cultural and community life of a town or village simply drains away,” she concluded.
Birr's councillor John Carroll enthused it was “fantastic” to see so many businesses in town opening to the public for business this week in response to easing of Covid restrictions. “Nobody can underestimate how difficult the three month closure has been for them or the challenges they face as they rebuild their enterprises.”
"I would hope that the actions of our Council in dealing with rates and assistance with small reopening grants will be of assistance but the most important support will come from the people in the locality shopping locally which I have no doubt will.
It is important that as a community we stand together in the days ahead, maintaining social distance and complying with the guidelines and keeping doing business local.”
Meanwhile, the Offaly Express is doing its bit to help support local businesses, big and small, at this difficult time. We are putting the call to businesses to send in their details of when they are reopening and we will publish them free of any charge. If your business is not on the list but you want to be included, email your details to email@example.com. And if you are a consumer, please do what you can to support local businesses at this time.