Covid-19

Heartbreak once more for Dundalk business owners

As Level 5 restrictions forced the closure - once again - of non-essential retailers, Michelle O’Keeffe spoke to ‘devastated’ local business owners

Michelle O’Keeffe

Reporter:

Michelle O’Keeffe

Heartbreak once more for Dundalk business owners

Local businesses were left reeling after they were forced to shut their doors again as a second lockdown was put in place last week in a bid to tackle the spread of Covid-19.

Hairdressers, beauticians, and boutiques who had spent thousands putting social distancing and safety measures in place were left devastated after the Government announced that Level 5 coronavirus restrictions were to be introduced.

While restaurants, coffee shops and pubs that worked hard to keep going serving a maximum of 15 customers outdoors under Level 3 restrictions are now only allowed to serve takeaways for six weeks under the new rules.

Local business people spoke to the Democrat about the effect a second lockdown in the run up to their busiest time of the year, Christmas, will have on them.

‘Disappointed

Justin Casey, the owner of Justin Casey Salon on Park Street told how they were left devastated about having to shut again after spending thousands of euros ensuring the highest level of hygiene and safety measures were in place for their customers.

Justin said: “We are very disappointed about being hit with another lockdown.

“I don’t think politicians realise the strain it is putting on businesses to be closed again for another six weeks.

“We spent thousands of euro on PPE equipment, screens and sanitisation to ensure we are adhering to all the safety guidelines in relation to Covid-19.

“Hairdressers are extremely controlled environments with the highest levels of hygiene and social distancing in place.

“GAA matches are still going ahead and kids are still at school, but we are being forced to shut again, it is extremely unfair.

“We are one of the most controlled, safest places but we are being told we can’t open.

“It is the small businesses like us that are being hit, it is disgraceful.

“We have been working so hard, doing long hours since we were allowed to reopen on June 29th; just trying to get back on our feet and now we have been hit again, it is a joke.

“It is one of our busiest times of the year in the run up to Christmas and we have to close.

“And even the week before the Halloween Bank Holiday we would have been very busy.

“I know there aren’t the usual social events that would normally happen on a Bank Holiday weekend, but people still want to get their hair done and feel good.

“We have been told this lockdown is for six weeks, but we don’t know if it will be extended and then we could lose all our busy Christmas trade too.”

Justin, who employs 14 people, said he is concerned about the affect the coronavirus restrictions are having on his staff and his clients.

“People’s mental health is a real issue”, Justin said.

“It is so important for clients to be able to get out of the house and have a little time for themselves being pampered and having a chat; especially those who live on their own or feel isolated.

“Also, we have employees who now are out of work again for six weeks.

“They all have bills and mortgages that still have to be paid and kids that they have to provide for, and all this coming up to Christmas.

“It is extremely difficult and stressful.

“And we also have rent and bills for our business but very little money coming in.”

Justin urged people shopping online during the Level 5 lockdown to stay local and support businesses in the community.

“We still have gift vouchers, gift sets and hair products that can be bought online.”

‘Devastating’

Clodagh Curtis Connolly, owner of Image Beauty Salon in the Clanbrassil Centre said she feels that retailers that have done everything right and have taken every step to ensure the safety of their customers and employees are being punished.

Clodagh said: “Having another lockdown is absolutely devastating, we are gutted.

“We have all the safety precautions in place and have been doing everything right.

“We had the door locked and when a client who had booked an appointment came to the door we let them in and took their temperature and got their details for tracing.

“We had steps in place that we took every time a customer came through our door.

“We have gloves, masks, face coverings, sanitation, it is an extremely safe, controlled environment.

“It is very frustrating to be closed down again.

“There are people having house parties and gatherings that are causing the cases of Covid-19 to rise and people, like us, that are doing everything right are being punished.

“The virus is not being spread in retail as we are doing everything we have been told to do and ensuring our staff and customers safety; but it is retailers that are been shut down again.

“It makes me so angry.”

Clodagh said that her businesses was just beginning to get back on its feet after the last lockdown in March,

“There was joy when we were back open after the last lockdown”, she said.

“Clients were so happy to be back and excited about getting their nails or eyebrows done or getting a facial.

“But unfortunately, that was short lived.

“We were only beginning to get our confidence back and now we are shut again.

“It is soul destroying.

“There are seven of us working here altogether and all the employees have young kids and bills to pay, it is very stressful for everyone.”

Clodagh is encouraging people to buy local rather than shopping on retail giants’ websites.

“I would ask people not to be shopping from places like Amazon and other big businesses and instead buy locally online”, she said.

“We have quality skincare and other products available online and I am happy to do consultations over the phone.

“I can post products or deliver them – people just need to message me or phone, I will be available, I am not going away.

“Just because the door is closed it doesn’t mean that I am not here and available for our customers.”

‘Hit hard again’

Brothers Vincent and Brendan Mulligan, who own The Spotted Dog at Adelphi Court, said they had no choice but to roll with the lockdown and have launched a new takeaway menu for customers.

The duo, who had recently refurbished their outdoor dining space allowing them to serve 15 customers under Level 3 restrictions, said they were disappointed that they now have to close that facility again due to another lockdown.

Vincent said: “We did see another lockdown coming down the line, especially when the border counties restrictions were being looked at, but it is still very disappointing.

“We have well-spaced seating for people outdoors, which we worked hard on to get together so we could keep our business going in Level 3 restrictions.

“We did a lot of work on our outdoor space when we were last in lockdown, and it was going really well.

“It was tough only being able to have 15 people outside, but we made it work as best as we could, for the short amount of time we were able to do it.

“It is hard being hit again with another lockdown, but we have to just roll with it, you either sit on your hands or you do something and come up with new ideas to keep going.

Manager Vincent and Head Chef Brendan along with their wives have worked tirelessly to keep their business, who they opened three years ago, running throughout the pandemic.

Vincent said: “We will do takeaways again on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings between 4pm and 9pm during the lockdown, with a new takeaway menu.

“It will be the same as what we did last time we were in lockdown, a contactless takeaway service.

“People can order their food and pay for it over the phone or online.

“They can then drive to our back entrance where there is a car park and we put their food in the boot of their car and wipe down the boot – it is a completely contactless takeaway.

“We will also have pick up points for meals at the front entrance of our restaurant.

“We got great support from our regular customers during the last lockdown and I am sure we will again during this one.

“We also got new customers who tried our takeaway during the first lockdown and then when we reopened started coming to us.

“We have had a lot of loyalty and support from people, which we really appreciate.

‘Very Stressful’

Lesley Fee, the owner of RubyNu Boutique on Park Street said she is devastated about having to close her clothes shop again but said she is grateful for all the support from her customers throughout the pandemic.

Lesley said: “It is very hard to be told that I have to close my boutique again – in fact I’m devastated.

“I just can’t understand it.

“My boutique is so safe with all the hygiene, social distancing and contact measures in place.

“It is a large store and I only allow three people in at a time.

“Over recent weeks from being able to open on June 8th I have randomly asked customers if they feel safe and comfortable in RubyNu Boutique and they have all replied they feel very safe.

“They also made comments to say that it’s a particularly enjoyable experience to enter my store during these current times and see all the beautiful new colours and styles... it’s uplifting and a breath of fresh air for many.

“Closing a business is extremely tough on everyone, we all have staff, overheads, customers and stock to worry about, it’s very stressful.

“The fashion business and running a boutique is quite unique to other businesses.

“It costs a fortune every season to stock a boutique.

“The labels that we carry at RubyNu are mainly sourced from European countries including Spain , Italy and Denmark.

“We recently began to carry an exciting new brand from Greece.

“To have brands like these in our portfolio they are ordered up to 12 months in advance, when you commit to an order you are committed to pay for the stock, you own it.

“Even though we offer a casual clothing line at RubyNu, a large part of our business relies heavily on occasions such as weddings, Communions, Confirmations and Graduations.

“It’s great and we have ladies travel from all over the country to shop for these events which is super for our town.

“During the last lockdown we had to close for 12 weeks.

“Also, these events have been cancelled and postponed which caused a devastating effect on our business.

“Yet I still had to receive deliveries and pay for stock even though we were closed.

“I worked continuously day and night constantly updating our social media platforms and our online store www.rubynu.ie.

“Selling online has been a saving grace, also I was getting private messages and calls from customers looking for new clothes, presents and gift vouchers, this was a huge help to get us through, I’m so grateful.

“On June 8th I got to open our doors, it was tough at the start but gradually the weeks got better and better with people beginning to shop again.

“Just as there was light at the end of the tunnel Level 3 came into effect and the business nose-dived again, now with us entering Level 5 ... knowing that I have to go through this again haunts me.

“Shopping local is so important, it’s vital.

“I would like to urge everyone to shop local, it’s so important for our community.

“I have to say it’s one of the main reasons why I’m still in business today.

“I would like to sincerely thank all my customers for all their support particularly in the recent weeks and months. They have been amazing.”