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'It's going to be a disaster for us': Retailers call for clarity and support ahead of tightening of Covid restrictions

Business owners aren’t holding out hope for all retailers to be deemed essential.

Image: Sam Boal

IRISH RETAILERS ARE battening down the hatches for difficult weeks ahead.

Cabinet will make a decision this evening on whether to shift gear to Level 4 or 5 of the ‘Living with Covid’ plan, a move that could result in the closure of retail businesses across the country.

Lobbying groups representing the sector have said that any move up the levels could be fatal for retailers that have already been damaged by the pandemic-related business restrictions earlier in the year.

In a statement this morning, Retail Ireland said a decision to close “non-essential” retail would be “a massive blow” to the sector, which is still in the process of recovering.

Meanwhile, Retail Excellence Ireland has warned the government that “all retail should be classed as ‘essential ‘ to avoid a potential 60,000 job losses, particularly in the run-up to Christmas.

Those calls have been echoed by Smyths Toys, which is concerned about the impact of the restrictions on its traditional Christmas rush.

In a statement this morning, a spokesperson for the toy shop said that its “click and collect, online and home delivery” will be available in the coming weeks, regardless of whatever decision is taken tonight.

“We hope the Government makes toy stores essential retail as an exception for the period coming up to Christmas”, the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for IKEA said, “IKEA is waiting to hear the Government’s announcement later today and will then assess its impact on the business, therefore we are unable to provide any comment at this time.”

‘Permitted to travel’

Smaller retailers are hoping for more clarity this time around.

Louisa Earls, who manages the Books Upstairs bookshop on D’Olier Street in Dublin 2, said that during the first lockdown, there was a lot of confusion among retailers like hers that switched to a mostly-online model.

While December is usually her busiest month, November isn’t far behind.

“I don’t know what to expect for Christmas, she said.

I hope that maybe if they restrict everything now, maybe they can open retail back up again for Christmas. Certainly, that would be great if we could get back open in plenty of time before that.

But Earls isn’t “holding out hope” for all retailers to be deemed essential.

Instead, she hopes the government will make it “clear that people who are involved in the running and management of bookshops or other businesses are permitted to travel to work to keep their business going online”.

During the lockdown period, she said many retailers were “very unsure whether they were breaking the rules to travel safely to work to keep their business going by sending online orders”. 

Customers were in the same boat.

“Rather than people feeling like they’re breaking the rules if they come to collect something they’ve bought, Earls said, “one thing I’d love to see is for people to be permitted to collect things that they order from retail businesses.”

Jackie O’Mahony-Crowe is a member of the Made in Limerick craft co-operative.

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Unlike Earls, her business — which has just moved to new premises on Henry Street in Limerick City — doesn’t have an online presence. She’s afraid that closing down for a few weeks could tempt Christmas shoppers to buy their presents from online retailers.

Being forced to shutter up is “going to be a disaster for us,” she said, “because the two months in the run-up to Christmas is when we make our money”.

“From a general economic point of view for the country, I think they need to keep retail up and running as much as possible. Whether it’s going to be Level 4 or Level 5 it doesn’t really matter the way they have restrictions for retail at the moment.”

Dee Ryan, chief executive of Limerick Chamber, has warned that some retailers “just won’t have the energy to come back” from a second lockdown scenario.

She’s concerned about the impact “on unemployment in the area” and an increase in “the number of vacant units that we might see in our city centre as a result of the second closure”.

Ryan said that Limerick Chamber had teamed up with the local council and the Local Enterprise Office to create an online resource called ‘Shop Limerick’.

It’s designed, she said, “to bring people to one place where they can find information on how you reach your local retailer”, particularly in the run-up to Christmas.

Ryan said her big message to shoppers would be to “please pause and take a moment.

“Resist the urge to go directly to a brand or to a manufacturer to purchase online. Please take the extra few minutes to search a local directory and find out if there is a local stockist or a local retailer that you could support with your spend.” 

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