21 May 2022

Longford businesses cautiously optimistic ahead of the festive period


Businesses in Longford are cautiously optimistic about the future after the county's emergence from Level 5 lockdown

As Longford gets used to its businesses reopening following a six-week Level 5 lockdown ahead of the festive period, there are many business owners who are thrilled to be back open but concerned about the cost that another lockdown could have on their livelihoods.

One industry that is having mixed feelings about reopening is the hospitality sector. While there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel for wet pubs as the year draws to a close, those pubs that have been allowed to reopen - with strict conditions - are also facing difficulties over the festive period.

Pat Byrne of Skelly’s pub in Ballymahon told the Leader that, while he is delighted to be able to reopen his doors, it is not likely that takings will be particularly good over the Christmas period.

“We’re obviously happy to be open again but it’s stressful. We’re happy in one way but in some ways we probably would have been better off not opening at all,” he said.

“We can’t operate at full belt. It’s all different now. Bookings are slow. We can’t take Christmas parties because we can only have groups of six at a table. We can’t have live music. We can’t even have loud music.

“We’re only open to cater for our customers, seven days a week. There’s no money in it. In some ways, the wet pubs are ten times better off. We’re only open to cater for our customers, to get people out and to provide a service for those who want to come out for a meal and a few drinks. We’re not going to make money.”

Not only will the pub not be making money during what should be its busiest time of year; it will be losing money, Pat explained.

Skelly’s is committed to opening seven days a week in the run-up to Christmas, which means all the usual expenses for utilities and for opening the kitchen will be a challenge.

“The rest of the wet pubs are getting the PUP and 10% of their takings from last year. So if they brought in €3,000 a week last year, they’ll get €300 a week now,” said Pat.

“But you wouldn’t make that per week with the restrictions in place. You can’t pack the pubs - not if you’re going to do it right with social distancing and other measures. So you’d be lucky if you break even.”

The pub currently has weekly oil deliveries to keep the premises heated for customers, with a number of open fires lit inside to give the usual homely feel of your local pub. Add to that the Christmas lights and other expenses and there’s a lot going out with very little coming in.

“We have to keep all of that going whether there’s one person or 20 people,” Pat explained.

If there’s one industry that’s doing incredibly well since lockdown restrictions were lifted earlier this month, it’s the hair and beauty industry.

With Christmas less than a fortnight away, hair and beauty salons are working round the clock to pamper their customers who have been without their regular treatments for a long six month stint.

But salons across Longford, and nationally, have put a lot of effort and money into ensuring their businesses are fit for purpose as the country battles the Covid-19 virus, and yet have still found themselves with shut doors and no income for a huge portion of the year.

Margaret Mulvihill of Zara Hair Salon in Longford town told the Longford Leader last week that things are extremely busy since they reopened their doors after a second closure due to Covid-19.

“I suppose we are one of the fortunate businesses that can’t be replicated online, so we are very busy and we expect to accommodate all our loyal clients before Christmas,” Ms Mulvihill explained.

But fears of another lockdown, should the government decide to place further restrictions on the country, are ever present in the minds of those businesses who are trying to keep their doors open.

“It feels like a bit of a light-switch culture for our businesses as we are all dreading another lockdown in the new year and it has been difficult to stand on the sidelines for so many weeks this year when we have applied all the rules and regulations at great cost, and particularly with no Covid cases emanating from salons,” said Margaret.

“However, I’m hopeful that 2021 will see us over the worst of the virus and would ask people to continue to be vigilant over the coming weeks to protect the most vulnerable members of our society,” she concluded.

Meanwhile, local restaurateur Andrew Reynolds has appealed to members of the public not to be a restaurant ‘no show’ by not turning up for bookings without cancelling if they can’t make a meal.

Speaking this week, Mr. Reynolds said “after a highly successful but cautious reopening of businesses following a second lockdown I would like to join the government and fellow eateries in urging potential customers not to be a restaurant ‘no show’ by not turning up for meals if they can’t make it.

“As we approach the busiest period of the year in the lead up to Christmas, I would like to plea with people to leave their phone number when making a booking for a meal with family or friends and respect the restaurant's rules and all the hard work that goes into meeting all the specific necessary regulations under Level 3.“

Under the current guidelines for restaurants reopening, bookings are limited to six people per table with one metre spacing per table and a limit of 1 hour and 45 minutes for sittings.

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