“It’s a disaster for the village,” is how the owner of Falvey’s pharmacy, Conor Falvey, summed up the fallout from the weekend fire in Douglas Shopping Centre that has forced its temporary closure.
His pharmacy is, as he describes it himself, “part of the centre, but also part of the village”, located right outside the automated exit doors that front onto Main St.
Mr Falvey said the closure of the shopping centre, a terrible blow for the traders located within and their employees, would also seriously affect footfall in the village, with the number of car-parking spaces reduced by over 1,000 overnight.
Mr Falvey recalled the damage caused by flooding in 2012 when businesses in the area were forced into temporary closures. He said the village was also blighted by many empty retail units and the introduction of paid parking, which traders had tried to resist.
Outside Mr Falvey’s shop, two pensioners were reading a notice displayed on the closed doors of the centre, advising that all social welfare payments have been transferred out of the centre’s post office to Blackrock Post Office, near Scally’s SuperValu on Skehard Rd.
Over in Eco’s restaurant, David Halpin, whose son runs the business, said he was at home Saturday evening when a friend sent him a video of the blaze. He came straight to Douglas.
“For the majority of businesses, it will be a disaster,” he said.
“Not so much for us because we operate by night and day but for other businesses who operate only by day and whose customers drive here to park and shop — they are just going to go instead to somewhere that they can park for free. We can’t compete with free parking.”
Mr Halpin said they had argued with the then county council against the introduction of paid parking before its introduction, pointing out the pitfalls for traders, but he said the arguments had fallen on deaf ears. Instead, the council invested in free parking at Douglas Woollen Mills — which didn’t prove a hit with shoppers and is now closed up.
“The flower shop next to me, she lasted about a year after the introduction of paid parking. Her takings went down 50%. Same with the Centra across the street,” said Mr Halpin.
Peter Collins, owner of Barry’s Pub, said they were only impacted for the night of the blaze when their gas system went down temporarily, affecting food service, but that others had far more to lose. “I’d be concerned about business owners and their employees,” he said.
Mr Collins reiterated the other traders’ concerns in relation to lack of parking and said he has written to Cork City Council offering access through his car park to a two-acre site known locally as Barry’s Field if the council could secure it.
“It’s sitting idle, it could be a temporary car park. I’ve offered them temporary access through my car park,” he said.
Mr Collins said he would be calling on the council to “ease up on parking enforcement” for the time being. He said paid parking has had a detrimental effect on shops on Main St since its introduction eight years ago, with people unable to complete their “stop and shop” in the half-hour free parking available before charges kick in.
Mevlut Halici, owner of Imaj Barbers on Main St, said the council should look at suspending paid parking as well as a month’s free rent or rates for business owners.
He said footfall yesterday morning was already down considerably. “Our customers normally park in Tesco and come here for a haircut, This is going to affect us big time over the next few weeks.”
In relation to free parking, Cork City Council chief executive Ann Doherty said they were “asking for people’s patience just for a couple of days until we get a plan together and we know what we are dealing with and we know the time before things can get up and running fully — and that will help assist in the decisions about what are the interim steps that need to be taken.”