It will be a combination of relief and sadness for Justin Dixon when he closes the doors of his clothes shop, Dixon’s Menswear, for the last time in two weeks – as another shop in Longford falls victim to the economic downturn.
Dixon’s Menswear opened in summer 2007, just as the first clouds appeared on the horizon for the Irish economy. After submitting a business plan, Justin took out a loan and spent €80,000 to kit-out the shop on Ballymahon Street, formerly inhabited by Ward’s Chemist.
Since then, the men’s clothes shop has struggled on through one of the most difficult trading periods this country has ever experienced. In a frank interview with the Longford Leader, Justin Dixon - a former St Mel’s College student - said it was impossible to make any money from the business.
“In hindsight, I should have closed last year but there’s always hope things will turn around. We tried everything. Promotion after promotion, a web presence, larger sizes but it just wasn’t enough. It’s too tough out there at the minute.”
To put the situation in context, Justin provided this shocking statistic: since January this year there have been 15 days where the shop took no money at all. In the same period, there has been another 15 days where it took in less than €150.
“Bottom line is, if I never opened this place, I’d be €100,000 better off,” Justin remarked.
Justin would not label any one factor as a reason for closing his Longford store, but made reference to a number of crippling factors affecting small businesses.
“There is the tendency to blame situations like this on the rent, or the rates or paid parking but in truth it’s a combination of everything. And you have to accept some of the blame yourself.”
Dixon’s Menswear currently pays €7,500 a year in rates to Longford Town Council. After discussions with his landlord, rent for the premises was halved last year.
“Even if I took the rates away or took the rent away it’s not enough for me to break even, so I can’t blame individual factors. I’d have to increase my turnover by 30 percent to just break even, and 50 percent to be able to take any sort of a salary out of it.”
However, the businessman was scathing in his assessment of the effect paid parking has had on the town.
“Paid parking is absolutely hated. The irony of it is, I’d have people coming in buying €200 suits but they wouldn’t want to put 40c in the meter. I’d have fellas trying on suits running out the door with the jacket on them to check for the warden.
“I agree with paid parking in principle because there would be chaos otherwise but something needs to be done to help retailers. Even something small like free parking on a Saturday, or the first Saturday of every month would be welcome. It would just show us they [the Town Council] understand, and want to try and do something to get people back into the town.”
A quick survey of Ballymahon Street reveals five other premises lie empty. Since he put up the closing down signs, Justin has been inundated with other business people expressing similar concerns about their futures.
“As soon as I had the signs up, people were in saying how bad things were for their businesses and how they were thinking about closing too. But it’s easy to say that to me now that I have the signs up.”
Justin has opened up a store in Galway dealing in large sizes only. Although business is slow, it does provide a more stable income.
“There’s hope in Galway, or Dublin, places with the larger population centres. Although I’m not directly in the city centre in Galway, the rates and the rent are lower than in Longford, places with far more people.”
When Justin finally put up the closing down signs on the front windows, after months of contemplation, it was a massive relief.
“I just felt a relief when the signs went up, like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I know in the last few days it’s really going to irk me when I look around, and it’ll kill me to close up for the final time. When you put so much time, effort and money into something it’s hard to walk away, but I really have no choice.”
Dixon’s Menswear will close its doors for the last time on Saturday May 26.