Retailers are warning of “rumblings” among them that shops will defy the Government’s road map on easing lockdown restrictions by reopening early as fears mount of businesses collapsing during the months-long closure.
Business group Retail Excellence said it was lobbying Government to bring forward the reopening of shopping centres from August 10 to July 29 so that it “can still control” the easing of restrictions.
Jean McCabe, the group’s deputy chairwoman, also claimed a limited reopening of shops on Monday, under phase two of the road map, will lead to a “pent up demand on a smaller shopping footprint” which, she said, would make social distancing more difficult.
“We have been lobbying (government) to reconsider the opening dates for shopping centres, bring them forward and spread that pent up demand across a larger retail footprint which would make social distancing much much easier,” she said.
Ms McCabe said the limited reopening expected next week would mean people travelling to their favourite shops and larger queues.
Stores in shopping centres, which are currently scheduled to reopen in August, could not sit back and watch their competitors with street entrances flourish while their losses mount, she suggested.
“Some retailers just can not wait, they have been closed for such a period of time, and there are rumblings that some just won’t wait,” she told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
Imagine being a footwear retailer with a store full of summer sandals, and you were watching your competitor sell out his stock for the next two months while you remain closed.
“So we are urging government to reconsider that (date), and bring it back. It would also allow a situation where government can still control the reopening.
“We just fear that some stores just won’t be able to wait that long and will open sooner, contrary to the government’s directive.”
Ms McCabe said there is a “serious liquidity issue” for many retailers.
“Unfortunately we are going to see some casualties as a result,” she added.
Minister for Business Heather Humphreys suggested “mitigating measures” to discourage groups gathering in shopping centres could be considered as part of a plan to reopen them.
“I fully understand the concerns of retailers in shopping centres. I understand the points they are making and have been engaging with them. Obviously I will be making the case for them,” she said.
“But on the other side there is a public health concern around people congregating in confined spaces. Maybe we can look at mitigating measures that we can take to deal with that.”
Ms Humphreys said she would be raising the issue at Cabinet today.
Asked if Government would move to shut down shops which defy the restrictions, she said: “Businesses have cooperated with Government throughout this, and I expect they would continue to do so. By doing so they made sacrifices, but it has also meant that we have been able to get this virus under control.”
Ms Humphreys said she didn’t have an estimate for the number of businesses that will collapse as a result of the lockdown, but urged any small retailers reopening on Monday to apply for the government’s restart grant and wage subsidy scheme.