Sligo Champion

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Closing in a bid to survive

With people preparing themselves for the worst amidst the coronavirus pandemic Ciara Galvin speaks to business owners about the impact

For businesses across the county the uncertainty of what lays ahead in light of the escalating Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic with concern upper most for the public and their staff has resulted in many of them having to close their doors.

Depending on their offerings some businesses are comparing the current climate to that of a red weather warning with no end in sight. Others, such as large supermarkets are experiencing panic buying as people rush to bulk buy.

For Des Faul, owner of Cafe Fleur operating his business is becoming increasingly difficult with cancellations rolling in.

"We've seen a marked decrease in the footfall in the last week, people just aren't around town. And then some of our meetings have been cancelled because they're stopping gatherings so our deliveries are down. We've had eight cancellations so far."

Regularly providing catering for meetings at Sligo University Hospital, Des explains that this side of the business has been massively impacted.

"Some days we would be doing 12 deliveries but now we're on one or two. The hospital would be a big part of our business but pharmacy reps who normally host meetings and get us aren't allowed go to hospitals because they're closed to visitors.

"We're affected on the inside and the outside," he says, referring to the ongoing works on O'Connell Street.

"You can see why cancellations are happening but from our perspective it's tough enough, but times are tough for everybody.

"We have the O'Connell street works which didn't help anybody but we'll get over that, that's finishing in five weeks time."

Keeping an eye on the escalating cases in Italy, Des is trying to remain positive but cannot avoid being concerned about what the future may bring

"We've no idea what's to come. We're three weeks behind the curve of Italy and they've shut the entire country down. I'm not a sensationalist person and I like to be pragmatic but also realistic. I see a lot of damage coming very quickly."

Like all small businesses owners Des is preparing his business for the worst case scenario of losing staff for a time due to coronavirus or self isolation.

"We're all wondering what we should do. If three of seven staff are sick and if the rest are in isolation for two weeks anyway that's us closed.

If we lose two staff to self isolation we'll be tight, if we lose three we'll be closed."

Explaining the reality of running a business in these ever-changing and uncertain times, Des says the hands on reality of hospitality means staff need to be on site for it to function.

"We need a certain amount of people to operate. There's no remote working in this business, that doesn't happen.

"There's a certain amount of paperwork I can do, that'll take a day, after that I don't know."

Asked what plans he has in place, the businessman said he is expecting things to get much worse.

"I've no doubt it will get significantly worse quite quickly. We're looking at not doing outside work. I'm the delivery guy and I run the business so I'm putting myself at risk going outside, especially going into places like the hospital."

Des says up until now it has been fine as he and his staff have always exercised excellent hygiene practices.

"We're in the hospitality industry we wash our hands umpteen times a day anyway, but there's still a risk factor, so we may have to slim down the operation, not do deliveries, have one or two people working a day and just do take outs."

"We want to keep it going because people get into habits very quickly. If you're not open they'll go somewhere else so you don't want that. We want to keep it going as long as we possibly can."

Not meaning to be dramatic or sensationalist Des says he is readying his business for the eventuality that the coronavirus is already in Sligo.

"There's no reason it wouldn't be here, the incubation period is three days to 12 days, why would we think we're any different to other place. This is the reality. We're a small SME we're not covered."

Des relucantly took the decision on Saturday to close.

"We hope to re-open once all of this chaos dies down. We have run a great business with fantastic customers and a very loyal team and we aspire to get back up and running later this year," Des said in a post on social media.

Other businesses followed suit at the week-end including the Four Lanterns, Ej Menswear and a host of pubs and some restaurants, with takeaway being offered in some only.

Having survived bleak periods of trading in the past, most recently the recession, John Mullaney Jnr of Mullaney Brothers, O'Connell Street, is no stranger to overcoming adversities in business.

Speaking to The Sligo Champion, the straight talking businessman is candid, he sees the pandemic closing small businesses.

Discussing the travel agent side of Mullaney's, John says these are very uncertain times for people and only they can decide if they cancel future travel plans.

"There's a very fluid situation in terms of travel arrangements, cancellations and what applies to people is very immediate. If you're going on holidays next week you've a decision to make, if you're going on holidays next July you don't have the same decision."

He says at the moment the only definite way of getting your money back for paid for flights is if Department of Foreign Affairs prohibits you from travelling.

"If they do then you get your money back. But,until they do, then you don't,unless you're travelling within that seven day period in which that direction is given."

"There are a lot of changes being made by suppliers, you really need to contact each individual supplier to see what their arrangements are. They will apply to people travelling up to, generally March 31st, after that it's wait and see."

In practical terms, Mr Mullaney reiterates that it is only a person's personal choice whether they travel or not. And, right now, with no government directive, people will have to bear the brunt financial if they cancel plans.

"If you feel you don't want to go, then you're going to lose whatever deposit you have paid and insurance and the direction of the state doesn't take into account feelings. You have to wait for an instruction not to go or you take the hit."

Mr Mullaney says airlines and tour operators are being flexible. "Airlines or tour operators have become much more flexible than they were previously at the start of this but again it's generally in relation to travel within the next couple of weeks, anything in the middle of summer they're still waiting to see."

He goes on to explain,"When the 31st of March rolls around the circumstances that exist then will roll on to the next deadline, which will probably be the middle to end of April until then we just have to suck it up and see."

"People who are paying their balances which is generally for people travelling next June is when we're collecting balances now, 90% are paying up and are going to go. There is a certain percentage that have decided to cancel, that's down to your individual risk.

"I see images and photographs of airports at the moment and there's nobody there, so it would make it very comfortable to travel, but again it depends on your risk."

Comparing the current situation to a red weather warning, Mullaney says these are very difficult times for business owners.

"This will be extremely difficult, this is the equivalent of a red warning alert in weather terms. We get those occasionally, they're generally for one day, you can live with that. This isn't going to be for one day, this is putting people off coming into town. It's putting people off doing things that they would normally do. That will have a very significant impact on footfall, that has a very significant impact on trade."

We are just waiting to see what happens. There's very little we can do, but just ride this one out and hope that it doesn't come to pass what we're being told what could come to pass.

We have no choice, we're here, we're open. We'd be delighted to see customers, we're looking forward to seeing customers."

Businesses across Sligo are busy putting plans in place to reduce risk, supplying areas with hand sanitiser and some even introducing social distancing measures.

Sligo Champion