Coronavirus: Back to basics for local businesses in Youghal

Youghal business owners have noticed a more communal spirit emerge since Covid, writes Neil Michael.
Coronavirus: Back to basics for local businesses in Youghal
Michael Farrell

Dylan Coleman, owner, with one of his own locally sourced dry aged t-bone steaks and homemade beef dripping at Colemans Traditional Butchers, Youghal, Co. Cork. Picture Denis Minihane.
Dylan Coleman, owner, with one of his own locally sourced dry aged t-bone steaks and homemade beef dripping at Colemans Traditional Butchers, Youghal, Co. Cork. Picture Denis Minihane.

Youghal business owners have noticed a more communal spirit emerge since Covid, writes Neil Michael.

Youghal’s future and ability to get beyond the current Covid-19 crisis is in its past, according to one of the town’s youngest businessmen.

Butcher Dylan Coleman says the fact more and more people are now shopping locally since the lockdown is going to play a huge factor in the town’s recovery.

And he says what is happening is a welcome return to a bygone pre-Celtic Tiger era.

With the cancelation of so many summer events, including Ironman, and the lack of tourists to the east Cork seaside town, local custom is going to be a much-needed boost to the town’s fortunes.

Ironman alone would have brought thousands of contestants into the town and contributed more than €2.6m to the local economy.

More established attractions such as Perks, one of the largest indoor funfair entertainment centres in Ireland, is currently closed, as is their Casino.

But while most of the shops in the town remain closed, those that are open are mostly experiencing an increase in trade and it is coming from the local residents.

“People have gone back to basics,” says Dylan, 27.

“It has gone more localised, people are staying local, eating locally and buying local produce.

“It has become a hell of a lot more communal. You now see a lot more local people shopping locally. It’s getting back to the way things were years ago. You have a lot more people going to the corner shop and they are really keeping everything as close to home as possible.

“We rely on tourism, there are no two ways about it. But I think if a lot more people stay local; this year and avail  of what is on their doorstep.

“This is just like people used to do before the Celtic Tiger took off. The crisis has led people back to that era and it has to be welcomed. “I think it is bringing people closer together again and helping make them appreciate what they have on their doorstep.

“In normal circumstances, there are so many people running and racing and if there is anything positive to come out of covid, it is people having time to appreciate the smaller things.”

Newly elected Fianna Fail TD James O’Connor said he is dealing with dozens of enquiries from business in the town wanting to be available for any grants or financial help.

“The mood is good and people are very much ready to get moving again,” he says. “I have had quite a few inquiries from businesses in the town who are looking for help.

“I am confident businesses will get through this because the town has a lot going for it and there is a resilience among the business community.”

Brian Hennessy is working in his Sports & Leisure business in the town.

Brian Hennessy
Brian Hennessy

He has noticed a huge increase in business, and shares Dylan’s optimism, but as happy as he is with how things are going in his own business, he has welcomed it with caution.

“I am doing a lot of bike repairs and I have also noticed a big increase in sales,” says Brian.

“At the moment, it’s very good. Business is up by 50% on this time last year. But I have to bear in mind there are so many bikes the people of Youghal are going to buy. So it’s doing well now but that will level off.”

The 46-year-old, who sold his first bike when he was 12, says that although business is going well, he is starting to have issues getting hold of spare parts. And he sees this taking anything up to three months to resolve itself.

Michael Farrell, owner of Farrell's Bar Summerfield closed his doors on March 15.

Although he was happy with how the winter went business-wise, he felt early on in the crisis that he was going to “lose April”. What he didn’t realise was how long the crisis would last.

Michael Farrell
Michael Farrell

One of the first things he did as the pub was closing down was to get in touch with his local garden centre and order flowers for his hanging baskets, including a lot of trailing petunias.

“The person in the garden centre thought I was odd getting so many flowers, and asked me why - with everything closing - was I doing that,” he says. “I told him that I wanted to be prepared for the day when the pub opened back up. I’m an optimist at heart.”

Because his is a large pub with an even larger green open space at the front of it, Michael is so confident he will be able to comply with two-metre physical distancing that he could easily stretch it to three if required.

“Because of the size of the place, and the work we are doing to adapt, physical distanciong isn’t - as a whole - going to be an issue,” he says.

“But like every pub in town, we are going to have to limit the amount of customers we can allow in.”

The pub normally fits about 250. With physical distancing and more people sitting at tables in an extended bear garden area, that number will be down to around 160. However, he has about 200 regulars, three of whom are in the 90s.

“One of our biggest problems is going to be how we decide who comes in for a pint or not if we have over a certain amount on site on a busy night,” says Michael.

“And we will probably have to make special provision for our more elderly clientele.”

At the moment, one of the biggest worries of artisan ice cream maker Miceál O'Hurley of Youghal’s famous ice cream parlour Fantastic Flavours has is takeaway containers. He can’t get enough of them.

“Although we can do it safely and hygienically, I don’t imagine people are going to come in for a cone this year,” says Miceál.

“It’s about customer preference and customer confidence. After so many people lost their lives and so many got sick, people are being extra cautious. Most people are going to want takeaway containers for the foreseeable future.

"Most customers are asking us for takeaway to eat at home. Where previously we would have sold 100s of cones a day, people are ordering takeaway.”

He said business has been “difficult” since lockdown but he is optimistic.

“They say if you want the gods to laugh, tell them your plans,” he says. “We had planned a brilliant rest of year and lots of marketing, and then Covid-19 pandemic broke out. We had to close around St Patrick’s Day and we are just after opening this week.

"Business is slow. People are still hesitant. It is easier to buy prepackaged ice cream at the supermarket than go to Main Street. It’s just one less trip out and therefore one less chance of coming in contact with Covid-19.

"It’s going to take time. It’s going to take patience. The question is: can the economics of a small business be patient enough for customers to come back before they have to close for good. It’s a reality.

“We are lucky because I produce all my own ice cream myself by hand, so I can buy supplies and create my product on an almost daily basis. So, from a cash flow perspective I am a lot better off than most businesses.

“But for businesses who have to order supplies and pay for them today, and then wait four weeks for the inventory to come, they may end up cash short, and that’s a real difficulty."

Florist Kay Curtin is looking forward to reopening, but for now is getting prepared, by erecting screens and making other precautions.

“I don’t want to open without having taken certain measures,” says Kay.

“There is a small bit of business on the web. It is coming back slowly. I’m an Interflora agent so I would have the franchise for areas including Youghal. Dungarvan, lismore, and Tallow. So, I am lucky.”

Printer Ger Flanagan is an example of how businesses will survive.

This is because while the crisis led to the closure of The Youghal News and the Midleton News, the two newspapers he owned and edited, it has also enabled him to not just survive, but thrive. He now makes a whole range of Covid-related products through his printing company.

Before the virus hit, he employed 20 staff but that has now dropped to seven.

We do Covid branding signage for the HSE,” he says. “We had no choice but to close the papers in early because there was no material, there was no content. It was heartbreaking.

“We had to reinvent ourselves and come up with new products and we travelled further to do printing work for companies. We would normally work within a 35 mile radius but now we are going as far as Dublin for work.”

Ever the optimist, Dylan has the last word.

“We are going to basics and it is totally reflected by trade," he says.  “Very few towns have what we have.

“I think Youghal will be OK. We see difficulties, especially as we are so reliant on tourism and we rely heavily on the summer, but I think we can pull through.

“We have a beautiful harbour, beaches, and two months in Youghal is better than a week in Spain any day of the week.”

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