Business down 60pc as shoppers fear that towns are 'no-go areas'
Shops in the flood-hit town of Athlone have lost an estimated 60pc of trade in the run-up to Christmas.
John McGrath, President of Athlone Chamber of Commerce, told the Irish Independent the town's "awful dilemma" is that while there is a massive humanitarian effort under way to keep flooding away from houses, local businesses are suffering from the mistaken perception that Athlone is closed.
He said an informal survey on Saturday evening found some shops were down as much as 60pc on anticipated trading targets, on what was the second Saturday before Christmas.
And a bridal store reported 70pc of its appointments had rung in because they thought the store would not be accessible, he said.
"The percentage of businesses in Athlone affected by the floods is at zero percent - but their business is affected by 60pc," said Mr McGrath.
As a third generation business owner in the town, he admitted that he was 'emotional' at the plight of small businesses, which had been looking forward to finally seeing a boost for the first time since 2008.
David Fitzsimons, from Retail Excellence Ireland, said it would take weeks for some businesses to get back on their feet.
He called on the Government to significantly increase its €5m humanitarian fund for business owners as the flood damage was set to cost "tens of millions" in lost earnings.
He revealed some owners had made the agonising decision to close up for good, with retailers in Bandon, Co Cork, and Athlone, Co Westmeath, hardest hit.
"It's been devastating for retailers. The next couple of weeks are the most important in the annual cycle. The vast majority of stores have maximum stock levels at this time of year, so the damage is catastrophic.
"People in Bandon and Athlone have been the most negatively impacted. In other towns, there is a perception that they are no-go areas, and this has resulted in consumers hitting the motorways rather than shopping locally."
Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW Simon Harris told the Irish Independent: "In the run-up to Christmas it's important to support local traders. They are eager to get the message out that they are open."
Meanwhile, gardaí urged the public to "get out and about" and support traders in the towns hit by floods. "It is the season to be jolly, so it's very important that everybody gets out there and shops," said Superintendent John Ferris.
"Places have been affected such as Athlone - but it's only a very small area of the town.
"So if you are living locally, don't use the weather as an excuse for not going out. We are facing into a week of wet weather. So we would ask people when they grab their brolly, to be careful, and to recognise that although floodwater may have receded, road surfaces may be damaged."