'Everyone is under pressure' as Cork retailers lift the shutters once more 

When retailers reopened their doors in June, there was excitement, relief, and hope. Now, Cork jeweller Ed Kenny says, people are “fed up”. 
'Everyone is under pressure' as Cork retailers lift the shutters once more 

Ed Kenny and his son, also Ed, prepare to reopen their store on Oliver Plunkett St, Cork City. Picture: Larry Cummins

When retailers reopened their doors in June, there was excitement, relief, and hope.

Now, Cork jeweller Ed Kenny says, people are “fed up”. 

“They're not as patient as they used to be. Everyone is under pressure," he says. 

Kenny's Jewellers, on Oliver Plunkett St, in Cork City, is celebrating 80 years of business. 

A year ago, there would have been 20 or 30 people in his shop at any one time, but now only seven or eight are allowed. "It's not easy," he says. 

While there has been a campaign to encourage businesses to sell online, particularly approaching Christmas, Mr Kenny says selling online isn’t  so  viable for  his business. 

"People would usually be putting down deposits on stuff from October, November for Christmas. They haven't this year," Mr Kenny says.

"People want to see the items, physically touch them. Anything that's over €100 or even €50, people want to see it up close." 

Mr Kenny says he would usually expect to do between 40% and 45% of the year's turnover from the middle of November to December. 

Having lost out on sales during the lockdown, there is immense pressure on retailers to make up for it in the coming weeks.

"It's scary," Mr Kenny says. "Hopefully, it'll be busy. I just hope people don't leave it till the last couple of days."

Retail business groups had asked the Government to allow them to reopen before the planned lifting of restrictions, arguing that a short, three-week window before Christmas would create more challenges for shops in managing crowds.

Eoin O'Sullivan, president of Cork Business Association, says retailers are anticipating "high volumes" of customers and there are discussions about extending trading hours in the city centre to deal with demand.

"One thing we want to be conscious of is, if we are doing it, that we do it together," Mr O'Sullivan says. 

His advice would be to plan ahead this year and not to leave the shopping to the last minute.

"There will be a bit of pent-up demand, so we'd ask that people make their way in as early as possible this year, make sure you allow sufficient time, and allow for some queuing,” Mr O'Sullivan says. 

And he asks that because it  will be the first time that shops reopen in such circumstances that customers be  more considerate to staff.

"Everybody is going to be working extremely hard to make sure that people enjoy their shopping experience in the city centre,” he says.  

Over on St Patrick’s Street, Eddie Mullins, of Fitzgerald Menswear, is making his store spick and span ahead of the reopening.

Both the inside and outside were painted during the lockdown, while Mr Mullins says he went "all out" on new Christmas decorations.

 Roy Power and Eddie Mullins, of Fitzgerald Menswear, St Patrick Street, Cork City. Picture: Larry Cummins
 Roy Power and Eddie Mullins, of Fitzgerald Menswear, St Patrick Street, Cork City. Picture: Larry Cummins

He says the level-5 lockdown was "a bitter pill", but he believes the steps taken have set the country on a good path for a busy, albeit "controlled" Christmas season.

"Looking out the door, I can see people are very compliant, people are wearing their masks," Mr Mullins says. "It's a testament to the people of Cork the way the numbers have dropped down. We seem to be in the good books again.” 

Mr Mullins says the last lockdown was different.

“We were very fearful, because no one knew how serious it was. The city was a ghost town.. but I think, this time, people know what they have to do to protect themselves. With hand hygiene and masks and different things, life did kind of trickle on,” Mr Mullins says.  

"And last time we had the lockdown, there was no Christmas at the end of it." 

Mr Mullins says that December is "the most important month of the year" for trade, with the store doing between 30% and 35% of its annual turnover in the run-up to Christmas.

"A lot of men won't buy clothes for themselves, but at Christmas, they might get spoiled by their wife or girlfriend or partner or mother or granny,” he says. 

Mr Mullins is hoping that "pent-up demand" will help cover the losses of the lockdown period.

"We've extra people on; the people that were part-time with us will be working full-time; we're going to be open later in the evening and open earlier on a Sunday,” he says. 

Compared with the last crisis, people seem to have "a couple more quid in their pockets", Mr Mullins says, because they  haven't been on holidays or haven't gone to weddings.

"I think people have a bit more disposable money available," Mr Mullins says and has no doubt that when Covid-19 is only a memory, people will be more likely than ever to want to get out, eat out, go for a few drinks, and buy some clothes.

"All the reasons for people to buy clothes will come back: Communions, confirmations, weddings," says Mr Mullins. 

"It's just about getting to that point."

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