“KEEP the head up, stay focused and we’ll all come through this together and emerge safely out the other side.”
That was the rallying message delivered to the business community this week by Letterkenny hairdresser Patrick Gildea.
The Government announced on Wednesday night that Donegal, along with Cavan and Monaghan, had been moved to Level 4 of its Living with Covid plan from midnight on Thursday until November 10th.
Level 4 restrictions mean only “essential retail and businesses that are primarily outdoors” can remain open with all other retail and personal services closed.
The announcement gave hundreds of businesses across Donegal only 24 hours to prepare for such restrictions.
“We closed from midnight last night (Thursday) and we’ll remain closed until November 10th. We opened at 8am yesterday so it was a long, long day,” Mr Gildea said.
The 16-hour day followed a busy few hours on the phone the night before for staff in the Patrick Gildea Hairdressing team.
“We had staff in here in their pyjamas making phone calls into the early hours of yesterday morning trying to rearrange appointments.
“Within half an hour of the announcement on the news on Wednesday night they were in here on the phones,” Mr Gildea said.
The net result was an extremely long and busy day’s trading on Thursday.
“We tried to facilitate as many customers who were booked in over the weekend as possible on Thursday. Customers were very grateful to be taking calls from us, even at 1am on a Thursday morning,” he said.
Under Level 4, people should not have any visitors to their homes, the maximum number of attendees at a wedding is six, non-essential retail outlets closed while all non-essential workers are to work from home.
Patrick Gildea’s premises remained closed from mid-March under the end of June as part of lockdown earlier in the year.
“We had a very busy six weeks playing catch-up when we reopened at the end of June before business levelled off somewhat. We faced a few challenges in the early days with some strange hair colourings and a few dodgy hair cuts that had to be straightened. We were just about to start our preparations in the build up to Christmas,” he said.
While disappointed to be closing the doors once more, Mr Gildea said that he was more upset for his staff.
“I have accepted that the business community all have a big part to play in trying to control the virus but it’s the staff that I’m more worried about. We employ nearly thirty people here and most of them have mortgages. Then there’s the apprentices who are starting out on life’s journey. It’s tough,” he said.
“Retail shops have got their stock in for Christmas at this stage and, hopefully, when we reopen we’ll get a clear run. We’re prepared to work all the hours we have to get everyone sorted in time for Christmas as are all other businesses in the town and county.
“I’ve been in business for thirty-two years and I’m come through a lot in that time. My advice is to keep your head up, keep focused and we will come through this together and emerge safely out the other side,” Mr Gildea said.
Zoom call with Minister
BRIAN McCormick broke away from a zoom call with Donegal Minister Charlie McConalogue to speak to the Donegal News on Friday afternoon.
The sports store owner was part of a call which had been organised by the Letterkenny Chamber with the Minister for Agriculture to discuss Level 4 and what is means for the local business community.
“Everything is being thrashed out here. The Minister is getting the different views of the members to bring back to the Cabinet. He’s hearing what’s being said on the ground and we’ll see what comes out of it,” Mr McCormick said.
While the physical shop on Main Street is currently closed due to the current Level 4 restrictions, customers can continue to shop online.
“There’s only three counties in lockdown this time around so I’m not too sure what sales we can generate on line. We’ll keep the team in place here for another week or so and see how the public react.
“It’s a case of taking things day by day at the moment because the ground rules change so often. We can’t afford to look too far down the road,” Mr McCormick said.
Brian McCormick Sports enjoyed a busy summer even though the footfall was down on previous years.
“There’s a different type of retailer out there at present. People are coming in with a purpose which, in itself, is a positive thing. They know what they’re looking for. They’ve already researched it online and now want to see it and feel it so the conversion would be higher because of that. They’re not coming in to pass time, they’re on a mission,” he said.
We need certainly
FORMER President of Letterkenny Chamber, Leonard Watson, believes the business community needs to see a clear pathway out of the current lockdown to allow confidence back into the local economy.
“We’re supposed to be living with Covid and we need to figure a way out of this current yo-yo position. The vast majority of the retail community are adhering to the letter of the law. Staff are wearing masks, customers aren’t allowed on premises without wearing masks and there’s hand-sanitisers and one-way systems.
“I was due to order in additional stock today (Friday) ahead of Christmas but I can’t afford to take that risk. Will I be allowed to open on November 10? What happens if they push it back another week or two?
“We’re doing all in our power to keep everyone safe and yet this ongoing uncertainty isn’t doing anyone any good,” Mr Watson said.
The fact that weddings have been severely restricted has adversely affected the suit-hire side of the Watson’s Menswear business this year while there has also been a marked reduction in trading figures since Level 3 restrictions were first imposed towards the end of September.
“The casual clothes trade is up on last year’s figure and we were trading well although it has dropped off substantially since the pubs closed,” he said.
“We need certainly. We can’t just keep going back into lockdown every five or six months. I honestly don’t know how much more of this businesses can take,” he warned.