After a week in Level Four, the jump to Level Five lockdown is set to deliver a fresh blow to many Donegal businesses.
The new restrictions come into effect ahead of the Christmas shopping season – the most important trading time for businesses. For service providers, the closures also have a far-reaching impact on their community of clients.
“Last week everybody was angry going to Level 4 four because it essentially closed lots of small domestic retailers. This is a step further,” said Toni Forrester of the Letterkenny Chamber.
“All independent businesses can’t see where the end is. But all that we can do is hope and look forward to December.
“It’s a very tough time because Christmas is the most important trading time for business. Hospitality has been closed for longer, for some of them, it’s a huge loss of jobs.”
The ‘Shop Local’ message has never been more vital this year, Ms Forrester said:
“Businesses have so much stock sitting bought for Christmas and they would have hoped for a good eight weeks out of that. Now they are left with a smaller window. We are urging people to please remember that there are businesses are working behind closed doors, they will satisfy orders in any way they can. They all have creative ways of showing you what stock they have.
“So why don’t you give your local business a ring, go online to their Facebook or website and buy from them?”
She added: “As well as buying through your local retailer, our ShopLK gift cards spread the spending for everyone in the retail and hospitality community. We are selling them online or we’re at the end of the phone for anyone who needs them.”
Fiona Murphy, Head Coach and General Manager at Citadel Gymnastics Letterkenny, has already faced three blows with restrictions at the business. The gymnastics centre has approx 800 children, teens and adults as members.
Citadel was just launching their restricted individual training last week before Donegal entered Level Four. The centre was following high levels of cleanliness and distancing, but suddenly kids’ training went from up to five days a week to zero.
“It’s hard again, not for me, but for the staff and the kids, it was their freedom and outlet,” Ms Murphy said.
“We are trying to do Zoom online, but it’s just never the same and it’s restricted.
“Mental health has taken a big hit, I know teenagers and staff who are struggling at the minute, I don’t think it’s based on work or Covid, it’s more the unknown and trying to deal with things on a daily basis.
“For children and teens, they have to keep up with the things that some of them are not very fond of, such as school, and their hobbies, freedom and socialisation have been stripped away from them,” Ms Murphy said.
New sports restrictions announced last night allow for non-contact training for school aged children outdoors in pods of 15, and this had led to some frustration for gyms and fitness centres that do not fall into the category.
“There is a frustration. It’s not that I begrudge them whatsoever, the more outlets any person has, the better,” Ms Murphy said.
“It’s annoying when companies and businesses are working incredibly hard, such as the dance community, which has also taken a huge hit. They are sanitising, social distancing and having the right ventilation but are still being told they can’t move ahead because they are not being counted as a sport. They got it even harder than we did.”
In Donegal Town, the absence of international tourism greatly affected businesses during the summer months and since Level Three, hospitality was drastically reduced.
For an independent clothing store such as Stella Boutique, Level Five calls for more even more adaptations to be made to meet customers’ needs. Store owner Stella McGroarty noted a drastic reduction in turnover with the reduction in tourism, but on the upside, she said she has gained new customers from throughout Donegal.
Ms McGroarty said: “I am a sustainable clothing store, my stock is fair-trade and ethically sourced and the clothes are meant to be loved and worn more over the seasons. I didn’t cancel any of my pre-orders for winter because the people who were making the clothes went to such efforts.
“At this stage I am not panicking because of the lockdown. Selling online is not keeping in with the ethos of my boutique but I have developed return customers through Facebook and consultation through Whatsapp. I’m nearly like a remote personal shopper now and I see myself developing that side of the business more and more. I’m working around the lockdown. I have no choice really.
“It’s a case of needs must, and by next season, hopefully if we do things right we can get through it.
“There is an underlying anxiety everywhere you look, but we just have to knuckle down, do what we are supposed to do, fight this the proper way and move on and learn from it.”
Ms MccGroarty has some words of advice for shoppers who will turn to online stores over the coming months: “For the people who do buy online – they need to be very aware that it needs to go back into the Irish economy. Shop local if buying online and shop from Irish companies, otherwise this country won’t survive with our level of debt.”
Meanwhile at the Inishowen Development Partnership, a new social enterprise ‘The LightHouse’ is laying plans for a Shop Local app in response to lockdown. The app is centred around plans for a contactless and online payment system which focuses on Virtual Gift Cards & Digital Rewards for customers, alongside possible aspects such as charity contributions from each transaction.
Virtual information sessions are getting underway this week and all Inishowen retailers, businesses and their customers are set to be encouraged to sign up for the app. The first of the information sessions will be Wednesday evening, October 21st at 7.30 p.m with another one on Thursday 22nd at 1.30 p.m.. Places are limited to 25 per session so book early to secure your place. Contact this eventbrite link to book https://www.eventbrite.com/e/125903287121 or phone 074 9362218.