SHOPPERS have been embracing a new retail reality since some businesses reopened to the public for the first time in eight weeks on Monday after the first phase of restrictions were lifted.
Hardware stores, garden centres and garages are among the first shops to be back open and all stores have put in place social distancing signage reminding customers to adhere to the two metre physical separation from others.
One way systems, perspex sneeze screens at most cash points, hand sanitisers at entrances and the yellow Covid-19 signage are also commonplace.
Car dealerships have been able to start selling vehicles since Monday. Divers Hyundai is a family owned business, founded by the late Teague Diver in 1972.
Like all other motor dealers they have been anxious to get reopened so that they didn’t miss the traditional window of heightened sales activity in the run up to the July changeover of registration plates.
David Tully is the manager at Divers Hyundai, He’s hopeful business will begin to pick up from this week but admits it will be challenging.
“Our service department is already taking bookings into next week so that’s all good. We look after the Gardai and ambulance fleets in Donegal so that has kept us busy throughout the lockdown.
“In sales, we’ve sold two new and one used car so far and it’s not even Tuesday lunch-time yet so there’s still people out there who are in the market for cars,” he said.
“While the shop door has been closed we’ve been busy with essential maintenance work which meant that we had one mechanic and the service manager in here most days working quite hard but, for the rest of us, it’s been very quiet,” he added.
New car sales dropped by 90% across Ireland in April and any new car sold from this week will undergo a full sanitisation process before being driven out of the showroom.
“We all have to be positive and keep our heads down and hope that everybody gets back to work over the coming weeks and months. I don’t think anyone really knows what will happen into the future but these past two days back at work feel like the return of some form of normality. Let’s hope that continues,” Mr Tully said.
Dermot Callaghan is the owner of Callaghan’s Electrical who stock a wide range of electrical goods including brand names such as Samsung, Sony, Dyson Meile, Beko and Rangemaster in their Letterkenny premises.
He said it was great to see the people in the shop again and to have staff back at work.
“It will probably level out again but the first few days have been excellent as customers stuck at home these past few months have been able to get around the shops once more.
Mr Callaghan has been in the shop most days during the lockdown looking after telephone sales and making deliveries.
“What I noticed over the last week to ten days when the shop was physically closed was that people pricing items over the phone were asking if we would be re-opened on the 18th. Rather than buying items over the phone without seeing them they were waiting until they could come in and look around. I suppose it was also about getting out of the house, a run out, even though you’re not supposed to go over the five kilometre radius,” he said.
Hair clippers, televisions, washing machines, fridge freezers and ovens were among the most sought after items during the pandemic.
“There’s been no window shopping. People are coming in to buy something they need and leaving again. Anybody who has been in the store these past few days has been in to buy,” he said.
“It’s still going to be a long, long road. It depends on when the hoteliers get back open. A lot of money is gone there with people not being employed in that industry,” he added.
“The shop is more controlled these days. We want people to wear gloves coming in to make them feel safer and our staff too. They’re wearing gloves, which are then binned, while they’re touching goods in the shop,” he said.
The premises at Letterkenny Forte Retail Park will remain closed on Sundays until the travel restrictions are lifted. Callaghan’s is open from 9am to 6pm Monday to Saturday with free delivery.
Mac’s Deli located on the High Road in Letterkenny re-opened its doors last Wednesday. A popular spot among locals and staff at the nearby Letterkenny University Hospital, Mac’s has a café, bakery and shop while they also provide outside catering.
This week they’re offering take-away cups of freshly brewed coffee and made to order sandwiches and wraps but the café remains closed.
“We’ve all the systems in the shop – screens, signage on the floor and staff wearing face masks – and people are respecting social distance,” Andrew McGinley, manager said.
“There’s a lot of things that people can pre-order online which is picking up a good bit. We’ve a bamboo app online and we’re starting to develop the website too. Hopefully that will be live next week,” he added.
Mac’s Deli are also looking at the possibility of opening up a seating area outside their High Road premises during the summer months.
“We’re trying to see what’s possible in terms of outside seating. During the summer we probably had four or five tables out the front and if we could re-do that this year it would be a great help but according to the legislation we can’t have sit down seats until June 29,” he said.
While the shop is open seven days a week, the food side of the business remains closed on Sundays.
“We’re glad to have all our regular customers back and to cater for the local population. It’s nice to see people back out on the streets of Letterkenny,” he said.
Homebase on Neil T Blaney Road provides a one-stop shop for home improvement, DIY and garden equipment, plus furniture.
Traditionally, April would be one of the busiest months of the year for the store and they’re trying to make up for lost time.
Manager Gary Hetherington and his team have spent the past number of weeks re-purposing the store ready to reopen in a socially-distanced world.
Its measures include installing screens at tills, placing sanitisation stations throughout the store and managing the number of customers that are allowed to enter its shop.
“It’s been good so far. We’ve been very busy and customers are following all the guidelines. Everybody understands that the world has changed and this is now the new normal. A lot of customers are just glad to get back out and pick up their various bits and pieces,” Mr Hetherington said.
“It’s all about the garden centre and paint at the moment and we’ve had a lot of delighted customers in the our store these past two days,” he added.
Homebase is open seven days a week, from 9am to 6pm.
“We’ve been closed since the end of March and if you asked any DIY or Garden Store when would be the worst time of year to close, the answer would be April. We’re now just trying to get back to some form of normality. The customers have been great. They understand that we have to do things as safely as possible and they’ve been very patient,” the manager said.