Huge adjustment gets Munster business back on its feet and ready for the fight

Floor paths have been marked, counter-tops sterilised, and sneeze guards installed in preparation for welcoming customers into shops once again.
Huge adjustment gets Munster business back on its feet and ready for the fight
Neil Murphy at the city centre suit store Con Murphys, on St Patrick's Street, Cork. Pic: Larry Cummins

Floor paths have been marked, counter-tops sterilised, and sneeze guards installed in preparation for welcoming customers into shops once again.

Neil Murphy of the historic Con Murphy’s Menswear on Cork's Patrick Street, which sells tailored suits and garments, said it was a huge adjustment when the shop closed down.

"We were established in 1932, and it was the first time that we were closed for any period over three days, so it was a huge adjustment for the staff of Con Murphy's over the last 12 weeks of closure,” he said.

"We have an online shop for large sizes which is called plussizeclothingireland.ie. This kept me busy during the lockdown, as I was able to continue to give a service to our Irish customers, and use next day delivery from An Post."

In terms of reopening, preparations had to be made.

"All staff members came to the store on Friday June 5 and we cleaned the store thoroughly. We had contacted the HSE on the reopening guidelines and we went through these [that] Friday as well.

"We have a very unusual store layout, which is very small on the ground floor, but very large on the first floor, so we have two areas for hand sanitisers, gloves, and face masks."

Mr Murphy said he is very glad to be back to business. "We were very nervous before we opened on Monday morning last, not knowing what to expect, but thankfully we had a very busy day."

The historic shop also got great support from local people. "The messages of goodwill from our customers were absolutely fantastic, and this support gives us confidence and the hope to carry on, knowing that we mean so much to so many people."

Neil Murphy, Harry Watkins and Mick Kelly at the city centre suit store Con Murphys, on St Patrick's Street. Pic; Larry Cummins
Neil Murphy, Harry Watkins and Mick Kelly at the city centre suit store Con Murphys, on St Patrick's Street. Pic; Larry Cummins

Mr Murphy said the government and local authority supports have been good so far. "The Government has been excellent in dealing with Covid. They have been very proactive from the beginning, and the income support to the staff was very helpful during the last 12 weeks.” "Cork City Council were also very supportive. The free car parking is a great incentive to encourage people to return to shop in Cork City. I would encourage the council to continue a parking incentive for the remainder of the year up to Christmas.

"When trade returns to some sort of normality, it would be very beneficial to shoppers if they got free parking in the multi-storey car parks from 9am to 11am during weekends. This would encourage people back into our city and we would all benefit in the long run,” he said.

Edward Kenny of Kenny's Jewellers on Oliver Plunkett Street said it was very difficult to close. "I haven't had three months of holidays since I was sixteen years of age," he said.

"I work six days a week, and retail would take the odd half day on a Wednesday. I just couldn't get my head around [having the time off]. Thank god the weather was so good,” he said.

Kenny's Jewellers is 80 years open this year. "You don't see it too often, it's good for a small fella anyway. Please God my young fella will keep it going," said Mr Kenny.

"My son is third generation. He was doing online which was a bonus. We were only doing that really for the last month. We should have been doing that since March but we didn't think this would go on as long."

He is still nervous about the return. "We just have to live [with this virus] as best we can."

The lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr. John Sheehan and the Lady Mayoress Aedamar Sheehan on a visit to Kennys Jewellers, Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork who are celebrating three generations and eighty years in business this week. Included are Ed Kenny with his wife Annmarie, daughter Elaine son Ed and staff members Sharon Buckley and Deirdre McSweeney.. Picture Dan Linehan
The lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr. John Sheehan and the Lady Mayoress Aedamar Sheehan on a visit to Kennys Jewellers, Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork who are celebrating three generations and eighty years in business this week. Included are Ed Kenny with his wife Annmarie, daughter Elaine son Ed and staff members Sharon Buckley and Deirdre McSweeney.. Picture Dan Linehan

Mr Kenny said his shop is quite long and there's a counter in the middle. He has a signage system so people come into the shop one way, and leave the other way. They also have perspex sneeze guards on the countertop, and hand sanitisers on both sides of the shop. "It's very different."

The shop is mainly doing repairs at the moment as opposed to sales. "People love to have their watches going, especially those over 60,” he said.

"It's lovely to see [our regular customers again]. When you get a bit of time you can have a quick chat with them, you'd nearly end up talking too much and people come in behind them, and we don't want to leave people in the shop [unattended]. It's a vicious circle."

In terms of government support, Mr Kenny believes rent and rates are the main issue affecting traders currently, and they should be tackled. "If you don't own your building, you won't last. Between rates and rent... I hope everyone lasts, but the only people opening shops in the past few years, before any Covid-19, were barbers, hairdressers, coffee shops, nail salons, and every one of them doesn't carry stock. It's all a service.

"Retailers like me have to carry stock, expensive stock. Clothes shops would be another one. There hasn't been a clothes shop opened [in the city centre] since before the last recession in 2008. Not a small one anyway."

He said it is more important than ever for people to shop local and spend their money within their communities, as online shopping has killed off a lot of smaller retailers.

"People might not want to hear this, but the Government will have to start putting Vat on goods coming in from online. Every retailer has an unfair start. We are paying 23% Vat, that's a huge thing, we have one of the highest Vat rates in Europe. It's just crazy in this day and age. They will have to start seeing the bigger picture."

He also worries that people will be too afraid to go back outside to go shopping again after the pandemic. "It won't be until the restaurants and the bars open you won't see too many people around. I know Penneys is reopening across the road from me, so that's marvellous. So that will bring some business to us hopefully."

He also laments the bigger retailers who are vanishing from Patrick Street, and fears that smaller pubs and shops will be forced to close if they have to operate at half capacity. "How would they survive?"

"Starting off new would be very difficult for anybody. I wish them well. You'd need guts to start opening a retail shop now."

The lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr. John Sheehan and the Lady Mayoress Aedamar Sheehan on a visit to Kennys Jewellers, Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork who are celebrating three generations and eighty years in business this week. Included are Ed Kenny with his wife Annmarie and son Ed. Picture Dan Linehan
The lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr. John Sheehan and the Lady Mayoress Aedamar Sheehan on a visit to Kennys Jewellers, Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork who are celebrating three generations and eighty years in business this week. Included are Ed Kenny with his wife Annmarie and son Ed. Picture Dan Linehan

Limerick Chamber chief executive Dee Ryan said 19,000 people are on the pandemic unemployment payment in Limerick, according to the latest figures.

"There were also roughly 1,830 Limerick employers registered for the temporary wage subsidy scheme, which is supporting about 18,000 workers."

So, retail shops reopening slightly earlier was welcome news. "There was a scramble to reopen. We have a very mixed sector in Limerick, manufacturing would be our largest employer.

"Those who were able to remain working, pharmaceutical companies and those who manufactured medtech devices, were able to continue working and had to adapt quickly,” she said.

Limerick's retail stores reopened last week, and Ms Ryan said one of the issues facing many SMEs such as retail was adapting the Return To Work Safely protocol to suit their needs.

"We have had a huge demand for assistance with interpreting that document. Unless you were already a member of a large organisation who had policies in place around infectious disease prevention control, or hygiene in kitchens... most of the SME sector would not have been used to that level of protocol before. We had a huge number of webinars, some for offices and some which were retail-specific.

"Some of the SMEs would be in older buildings, they can struggle to comply with the protocols [due to smaller spaces]. For the micro business it can be difficult.

"Employers want to make sure their staff are safe, they are very aware it is a stressful time for them."

In terms of the earlier reopening date, Ms Ryan says the retailers had to step up their plans quite quickly.

"But they have had a long time to prepare for this, even in town now you can see the hairdressers, they already have the perspex glass in."

The future of sales is also uncertain.

"There is an expectation that demand will increase over the coming months, but we don't know what the new norm of demand and productivity will look like, it will not be until quarter three when we see that. Hopefully we will see an increase in revenue in the coming months.

"One positive of the pandemic is that the entire business community has pulled together. We have rallied, there is a much stronger sense of a business community now emerging," she said.

More in this section

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day.

Lunchtime
News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up
Revoiced
Newsletter

Our Covid-free newsletter brings together some of the best bits from irishexaminer.com, as chosen by our editor, direct to your inbox every Monday.

Sign up