Café owner urges Cork traders to stop complaining about Patrick's Street car ban

The owner of a Cork city café has urged traders complaining about the St Patrick’s Street car ban to adapt to changing consumer trends.

As debate rages online about the impact of the daily 3pm to 6.30pm bus priority lane on the city’s main street, reintroduced 90 days ago today, Rob Horgan, the manager of Café Velo on George’s Quay, said his business for October was up 11.5% compared to the same period last year.

“It’s down to hard work, blood, sweat and tears, being active on social media and responding to what customers want,” he said.

“I think some of those who are complaining in recent days are looking at a very narrow window. Of course you’ll have quiet times. But we have to look at the wider picture. And if we keep talking down the city, then no-one will come in. Traders have to accept that business is changing and they have to adapt.”

He was responding to a tweet from John Grace, of John Grace’s Fried Chicken fast-food outlet on Cook St, showing a photograph of an almost-deserted St Patrick’s Street taken at 4pm on Monday with a tongue-in-cheek reference to a charity match on the street between “Cork City (F) C v Traders United (no need for the Pairc, plenty of room for all). Special non-appearance Ann Doherty. All proceeds got (sic) to recently laid off employees of City Traders”.

Fianna Fáil Cllr Terry Shannon reacted angrily on twitter: “I find the personalised nature of your tweet a disgrace. You should withdraw it immediately. The St Patrick Street traffic measures were a decision of city council and not just one individual. Shameful."

But Mr Grace insists that his business is down since the car ban was introduced, with an average 10% loss in trade over the past 11 weeks, and last Monday’s trade down 35% compared to the same Monday after the midterm break last year.

John Minihan of Minihan’s Pharmacy, said the new traffic arrangements are having an impact on trade and must be mitigated against.

But Mr Horgan said retailers must embrace changing retail habits and adapt. He said bus priority lanes are vital if the city’s public transport system is to be improved, especially with thousands more city centre office jobs coming on stream.

And he said the investment in and the expected improvements to bus services should be fast-tracked, with the data on reliability and passenger journey times made publicly available by Bus Eireann.

Meanwhile, the Cork Business Association (CBA) has joined forces with the city council to launch the Cork City Shopping social media channels on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to promote city centre shopping.

The CBA is working with the Cork branch of the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) on a brochure for hotel rooms that will offer discounts and incentives to visitors to shop in the city. It is hoped to launch the brochure in the first quarter of 2019.

The CBA has also partnered with the Local Enterprise Office to offer expert one-to-one advice to retail traders on social media, marketing, business exchange, how to change with the times, and effective networking.

“It is a sector that is in constant flux and the challenge to match the speed the sector is evolving, can often be the difference between success and failure,” he said.

“Helping businesses to understand the need to embrace change and stay up to date with shifting tastes and trends, whether it’s exploring new technology and buying habits or knowing what is going on around them, is crucial.

“Essentially, businesses must adapt to suit their customers needs, not just in terms of products, but in how their customer wants to shop and when they wish to shop”.

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