'This is my fourth devastation': Hundreds of jobs on the line as traders in Cork call for help

'This is my fourth devastation': Hundreds of jobs on the line as traders in Cork call for help
A car tow truck is hoisted onto the roof of Douglas Village Shopping Centre, which was damaged by a large fire last weekend. Picture Dan Linehan

Traders affected by the Douglas carpark inferno in Cork have called for leadership, action and support in the weeks ahead.

They told city officials they need a rates freeze, a free on-street parking initiative, an easing of the parking controls regime, and help accessing vacant units in the area.

It is understood that City Hall is already engaging with the owners of existing car parks in the area and is planning a marketing strategy to support the village centre.

And despite becoming part of the city under the city boundary extension in May, commercial rates in Douglas are still being collected by the county council until January.

It is understood that contacts are already underway at official level between the two local authorities on the rates issue. However, it has been confirmed that a vacant retail unit is not liable for rates.

The issues emerged after a meeting today with a multi-agency taskforce, convened by Cork City Council, to hear traders' concerns in the wake of Saturday's devastating blaze which has destroyed the 1,000-space carpark at Douglas Village Shopping Centre, and forced the closure of up to 50 retail units inside.

Hundreds of retail jobs are on the line.

Shopping centre trader Leonard Higgins, who established his Leonard Hair and Beauty salon almost 30-years ago, said his message to City Hall is simple.

"We need help and it has to be financial help," he said. "We have to have some kind of reduction in rates. We really need that badly.

This is my fourth devastation. I was hit by a fire back in the early days, then we had the floods and I had a fire myself five years ago and now this.

"Unfortunately I had to have a meeting with my staff yesterday and tell them to maybe start looking for jobs because what I know about the shopping centre is that it's going to a long time before it opens again."

Fellow trader, Michael O’Connor, of Pharmacy First Plus, has organised home deliveries from his Onslow Gardens dispensary on the northside since the fire.

"We need to eliminate parking charges in Douglas," he said. "One thousand parking spaces are gone and the only spaces available now are those that are charging by the hour - that’s a huge disincentive not to come into Douglas.

"We just need help from local government to alleviate as much pain as possible."

Vicki Creber, who spent the last decade building up her itso Me boutique in the shopping centre, said a lengthy closure for her fashion business would be catastrophic.

"There has to be some sort of a long-term plan to help us - whether it’s reduced rates, parking, a marketing campaign - they need to do every single thing they can. Everything needs to be thrown at Douglas village because of the seriousness of this," she said.

"I owe money and I'm losing money. I'm emotionally drained. I’m not sleeping.

"I spent 10 years building up the business. It was always my dream more than anything else to have my own business. In the past year, I worked doubly hard. I started doing road shows around the country. I could see how retail was changing.

I did everything in my power to grow my business. But this is hurting.

Dave and Cath Farrell, who run 12 Tables restaurant just a few minutes from the shopping centre, said they were attending the meeting to support their friends and neighbours.

"There is uncertainty especially after the flood a few years ago and my heart just breaks for all the people affected by this," Cath said.

Dave said their neighbours and friends are on their knees and City Hall needs to listen and act.

"We want to see leadership, actions, supports and compassion," he said.

"Douglas is a village in the truest sense of the word and we need to come back to the core of what Douglas stands for.

"We need people to be able to come in and park their cars without militant wardens just throwing tickets around.

"It’s just counter-productive.

"People driving along the South Ring road need to feel that it’s worth their while taking the Douglas exit, they need to know that Douglas is open for business - that it’s not a bottleneck."

Alastair Spink, who runs Pucinno's cafe in the shopping centre, said his business was closed for 11-months after the 2012 flood and that since the fire, he has had to lay off seven of his 14-staff.

"We are trying to allocate the others in the short-term to our other outlets, over Eason's in Ballincollig and a kiosk at the bus station," he said.

"If we could get open quickly then we will probably be able to take the hit. But realistically, if we are closed for more than a month or six weeks then even the senior staff will have to be let go as well."

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