There was an old woman who used to come into my parents’ butcher shop in Clonakilty and whenever she saw me, she’d say – I’m paying for the clothes on your back, girl.
It was an odd thing to say to a child but I did what I had been taught to do – I smiled politely at her and said thank you. Because she was right.
My father worked incredibly hard and the quality of the product was superior too, but at the end of the day, we were dependent on the customers who walked through the front door. Every one of them, no matter how much or how little they spent, contributed to my school shoes and my acting classes and my college fees and the laptop with which I wrote my first novel.
When you grow up as the daughter of small business owners, your gratitude for their support runs deep.
I have spent years listening to my parents talk about the people who come into our shop with such affection, watching them produce lollipops for small children and hang their finger paintings up on the cashier’s desk with pride, remind me and my sister when we are choosing an electrician or a plumber, that this particular tradesman is “such a good customer”.
Giving other local businesses ‘a turn’, was not only considered good manners, it was seen as vital for the survival of the town itself.
When I was furbishing my new house, I bought as much locally as I could – the lighting, the furniture, the kitchen wear, the filing cabinet for my office.
And while of course, there are certain things that couldn’t be sourced here, certain brands I love that are not available in my local pharmacy (my kingdom for Biologique Recherche!), I still feel a bit embarrassed when the postman delivers the packages. “I couldn’t get it in town!” I want to blurt out to the indifferent courier, especially if it’s from Amazon, which I will only use as a last resort.
The unsettling work practices at Amazon warehouses have been well documented - for example, injury rates at their massive fulfilment centre on New York’s Staten Island are over three times the industry standard, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Frank Kearl, a staff lawyer with non-profit Make the Road, told the website Gizmodo, that “the injuries themselves are incredibly severe, compared to the national average, compared to the national warehouse average, and compared to industries that are known for being very dangerous like solid waste collection, policing.” Your packages are arriving quickly yes, and it's convenient, but at what price? Jeff Bezos is the first person in modern history to accumulate a fortune over 200 billion dollars.
He could eradicate world hunger and disease tomorrow and still have well over a hundred billion dollars and he… well, he hasn’t.
While thousands of small business owners are facing bankruptcy because of the Coronavirus, Jeff Bezos is richer than he has ever been. And as Tommy Bowe recently said, “You don’t see Amazon on the front of many GAA jerseys.”
Whose names do you see? Your local supermarket, the pub, the family-run hotel. People who live in your community and care about its survival. Who are creating local employment, paying their taxes in Ireland, money that is ploughed back into the economy here, paying for schools and hospitals and playgrounds and better roads.
It's almost November and we still have a month left of this lockdown. We are facing into one of the strangest Christmases we have ever known. Much of our shopping will be done online this year, many people will be cocooning, others won’t feel safe venturing out.
But you can shop locally, you can still support small Irish businesses and get beautiful presents that your family will adore, from artisan chocolate to world class skincare. Check to see if your local boutique, craft shop, or bookstore has a Facebook page (most of them do) or phone to see if they have any advice on a present for that certain someone in your life. Buy a voucher for the beautician or hairdresser or that restaurant you love so much.
Remember – this has been a tough year for all of us, but it has been devastating for small business owners. Sadly, many of them won’t survive. How do you want your city or town or village to look when all of this is over? Do you want it to return to a thriving, vibrant place? Or do you want it to a ghost town, haunted by the memories of what it once was?
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Ellen. Ellen Coyne wants to know if it’s possible to be young, progressive, and Catholic. Get ready – this book will inspire a thousand conversations across Ireland about the role of the Church in our society and our future.
Rocks. This film (available on Netflix) is about a Black British teenage girl whose single mother leaves her and her young brother to fend for themselves. There aren’t enough words to describe how much I adored this – uplifting, heart-breaking, beautiful.