Businesses in the midlands town of Tullamore were active all weekend preparing for the reopening of personal services and click-and-collect retail.
While most had already introduced rigorous Covid-19 safety measures, such as screens and sanitisation stations, some were “upping the ante” as one proprietor put it, in a bid to ease fears among customers.
All the business owners reported that staff were eager to return to work and all were thankful of the support provided by the State Covid payment schemes and the Offaly Local Development office which organised online classes for a safe return to work.
Rena Lynam, The Wooden Hanger
Keeping her customers, herself and her shop safe are the priorities for Rena Lynam, proprietor of women’s clothing store The Wooden Hanger. Lynam admits she is wary of returning to business, and is planning a phased reopening. From May 10th she will operate a click-and-collect service and offer appointments for only two customers at a time.
During lockdown she focused on building her online business, developing her website and using social media as a sales tool. She makes videos of herself wearing the garments and then talks to customers by phone. “I know my customers personally so it makes it easier to discuss with them the styles and how my size would relate to their size,” she explains. As a result, after-sales returns of clothes have been minimal.
She knows some of her customers are nervous. “It’s important for people to feel safe.”
Deirdre Gallagher, Studio One
“We will be working seven days a week for the next while,” says Deirdre Gallagher, of Studio One hair salon.
The two storey salon has sufficient space to allow eight to nine customers to be looked after at a time, allowing for social distancing. Customers have been enthusiastic in their response. Gallagher had feared the black market, where some hairdressers were going to people’s homes during lockdown, would take away customers. “I saw people in Tesco and I knew their hair had been done professionally. It was blatant.
“A month ago I wondered would we have any customers left, it was a bit frustrating for us. But when we started contacting them, people were excited. I felt like Santa Claus. There was a wonderful response.”
Les Keenaghan, Galvin Tullamore
Having one of the largest menswear premises in the country lends itself to social distancing, says Les Keenaghan, proprietor of Galvin Tullamore.
He is fortunate that the shop as two entrances which will ensure safety for customers and for all 18 staff who will be returning to work. “We’ve had no problem with staff returning, they’re all very loyal as are our customers, we all look after each other.”
During lockdown they did respond on a number of occasions to emergencies. “There were a lot of tragedies and we opened up, socially distanced, if we got a call about a funeral. We are still very much a local business. Customer service is everything, we have people calling from all over the country and we can’t wait to see them in person again.”
Olivia Murray, Opium Beauty
Olivia Murray points out that the beauty industry, like hairdressing, is one where contact with customers is essential, so during lockdown she threw herself into developing a website (skinandbeauty.ie) where she sold skincare products and offered an online skin consultation service.
With one member of staff going on maternity leave, it will be just Murray doing skincare while colleague Sarah O’Connor will take over the beauty aspect of Opium when the salon reopens.
“We have many clients in vulnerable groups such as diabetics, people going through chemotherapy or who are immuno compromised, we need to make sure they are safe and comfortable so we will have special times assigned to those customers.”
But Murray is concerned that some therapists will not return to business because of the black market. “It’s disheartening to see what is happening in the industry. We are lucky that demand is high and our clients are loyal.”
Ellen Kidney, The Shoe Loft
Lockdown provided Ellen Kidney with an opportunity to develop The Shoe Loft’s Facebook page through which she showcased her shop’s collections. Customers could choose footwear which Kidney then delivered to their home.
“Our customers are all local, I know their tastes and they give us great support, of course it was nowhere what we needed to be selling, but it meant there was a lot of goodwill.”
Both of her part-time staff will be returning to work next week. Kidney says Government supports were of great benefit and “took the pressure off us”. But she predicts it will be some time before customers are completely comfortable going into shops.
Paul Bell, The Brewery Tap
Even though pubs will not reopen until June 7th, the proprietor of The Brewery Tap is using the month of May to test out a new delivery and take-out service. Paul and Cathy-Anne Bell invested heavily during the first lockdown last year in a commercial kitchen in the upstairs part of their premises.
Last Thursday they started the new take-out service which features all the items on their gourmet pub menu as well as drinks. Their seven kitchen staff have returned to work along with three of their wait staff for the service which operates Thursday-Saturday, 5pm-9pm, and Sundays, 1pm-7pm.
“Taking a chance last year and investing in the new kitchen was the best decision we ever made,” says Paul. “It meant we were ready to hit the ground running [and] when we reopen on June 7th we will have an established food business.”
However he is concerned about outdoor dining given the changeable weather and is hopeful that if Covid cases continue to decrease and the vaccination rollout meets targets, that there could be a return to indoor dining before July.
As with all the other business owners, Paul stresses how loyal and supportive local customers have been. “We’ve had a great reaction to the take-out and delivery service, which operates within an 8km radius, there’s been lots of pre-orders.”