Busiest week for retailers is a white-out
HUNDREDS of millions of euro are being lost to the economy in what should be the busiest shopping week of the year.
The return of heavy snow and freezing conditions -- made worse by a salt shortage -- has led to a downturn in high street trade, and mass cancellations of Christmas parties.
In a survey of its members, the Irish Business Employers Confederation (Ibec) estimated that the last cold snap cost the economy €640m.
But with Arctic conditions returning at the weekend, the final tally for suffering traders is expected to be much worse.
Ibec director Brendan Butler described the days leading up to Christmas Day as critical to the retail sector and warned that any further losses could be "one body blow too many for some".
Meanwhile, research by Retail Excellence Ireland (REI) has revealed that December sales could be down 8pc on the same month last year, twice what retailers had anticipated.
The survey showed that consumer activity had picked up after the first week in December when harsh weather took its toll.
Meanwhile, retailers in Dundalk, Co Louth, believe they are winning the battle to slow down the deluge of shoppers fleeing across the border to Newry.
Earlier this month, a number of shops in the town joined forces to reduce prices by the amount of the VAT due on them -- the resulting 'VAT-free shopping in Dundalk', campaign seems to be working.
Jock McArdle of Outdoor Exchange said: "People are delighted to get a saving, particularly at this time of year."
In Letterkenny, Co Donegal, where business came to a virtual standstill after up to 10 inches of snow fell over the weekend, anger was mounting toward the National Roads Authority.
"The country people are our lifeblood ... and they can't get into town," said angry sports retailer Brian McCormick.
Last night, chief executive of Letterkenny Chamber of Commerce Toni Forrester said businesses were outraged at the lack of resources to keep the streets and footpaths clear.
"Letterkenny is the commercial heartland of Donegal and the main street is like a skating rink," she said. "For every €1,000 spent in the town, €210 is going to the Government in VAT, and yet this is the service we are getting in return."