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Weather fails to dampen shoppers’ spirits

Denise McNamara

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While the widespread flooding did not help traders in the run up to their biggest season of the year, the majority of retailers across the county are cautiously optimistic the worst of the dark times are behind them.

For many retailers, Christmas can be sink or swim. Jewellers can earn half or more of their annual sales during the festive season. For other traders, it can account for a third of their revenue for the year.

Retail Ireland – a branch of the business group IBEC – predicted core retail spending in December to be up 3.5% on the same period last year, hitting €4.05 billion.

Modest tax cuts coupled with slight increases in social welfare in the budget are also expected to drive increased consumer spending this year for the first time since 2008.

Galway City businesses reported a busy Christmas season despite the inclement weather.

“Chamber members in the retail trade are confident that this festive season will hold up to last year and probably exceed last year’s figures,” explained Maeve Joyce, general manager of the Galway Chamber of Commerce.

“This would tally with several national predictions where various surveys including those from Retail Excellence Ireland suggest that core retail sales will exceed last year’s figures by about 3.5%.

“While our retail members said that the recent bad weather has had an effect on numbers shopping, it has been compensated for by some extremely busy days trading – shopping centres, both city centre and on the outskirts are doing a brisk trade due in part to their weather neutral situation.

“They have also reported a longer ‘dwell time’ for shoppers with one centre reporting that a very high bench mark was set over the October bank holiday, a bumper trading weekend, and that targets continue to be reached.”

Bad weather and heavy traffic are the key negatives affecting retail. The chamber is uring shoppers to use the Park and Ride service provided by Galway City Council as much as possible.

One of the most positive highlights of the year for the business community in Loughrea was the “Fibre to the Business” project, which brought high speed broadband to over 80 businesses.

“These businesses who helped make the project succeed have secured the town’s digital future which is now set to take off. It makes Loughrea town an ideal place to start a business or to move too and avail of the high speed and reliable broadband,” explained president of the Loughrea Chamber of Commerce, Cllr Shane

To encourage an increased footfall from the hinterland, the chamber has invested in new Christmas Lights this year to help make Loughrea more festive. They also upped the ante for the annual ‘turning on’ of the Christmas lights in a bid to entice regular shoppers throughout the big spend.

Michael McInerney of Loughrea’s Supervalu reports a very buoyant 2015.

“New initiatives introduced such as the Food Academy, Health and Wellness, and homewares, are trading strongly along with a growth in staples, particularly fresh produce and fresh meats,” he explained.

A number of new initiatives are planned for the store in January 2016.

“I see 2016 as a game changer in retail across all spectrums, given both the return of consumer confidence which will also benefit from recent USC changes to personal tax.”

Restauranteur Jirka Hanka of Taste Matters said the year had been good until the end of summer. He had noticed a significant increase in the tourist trade this year. “We expect an increase in business, fingers crossed, for 2016,” he revealed.

Gerard Dervan, of Dervan’s Fashions, concurred that 2015 had indeed been a different year. “After an upswing in the first half of 2014, it finished out weak but stable.  Early 2015 was similar in many ways but belly flopping along in an effort to lift off.  All of this was good as we had seen the worst five-year trading stretch up to 2013 in the company’s 80-year history,” he recalled.

The third quarter of 2015 had single digit growth in each month with the final quarter of 2015 proving strong with small but steady growth and Christmas is building up nicely barring the negative effect of the weather in the last month.

“We are positively hopeful for the rest of the month. Loughrea is looking good and doing slightly better than similar towns as far as we can see.  There are definite signs of an upswing. The younger customers are out buying strong again and the grey brigade has a renewed willingness to spend again.”

He believes 2016 will be ever better. “People are spending what they have now with more confidence than in the last five years.  They will no doubt do the same in Jan 2016….we will see, but I do believe that January 2016 will be a good deal better than January 2015… and it needs to be.”

In Clifden, an initiative called Christmas in Clifden, aims to more local people into the town by delivering a gift guide to 8,000 homes in the area through An Post and setting up a website plugging the 43 businesses taking part.

The key messages from the retailers is to shop local. “While there is always lots of talk about shopping local, no one ever really sees what is available so we have done this to put it right in front of them, similar to all the other gift guides that come in the door,” explained organiser Terry O’Toole.

“In general what I’m hearing is it’s up on 2014, it’s a slow organic recovery. The Wild Atlantic Way has certainly benefited the Clifden area. The season has certainly stretched on either side, it’s building from March and we just had a really good October,” he reflected.

“People are staying longer, they’re adding a little extra time to their trip – they’re stunned by the beauty, they didn’t know they could do so much here in such as short distance, things like kayaking, horse riding, fishing, shooting, coast steering.”

He runs self catering cottages in the town and already has bookings for next March, April and May – unusually early for the business, which is generally only busy in the summer months.

Ballinasloe has been badly hit by the floods at the end of what has been a difficult year, reflected Sinn Féin Councillor Dermot Connolly.

“It’s pretty difficult, particularly in the last number of years, and the fact that Ballinasloe has been hit by a series of job losses with nothing to replace them, the downscaling of St Bridgets has taken a large workforce with it. That coupled with a 6% increase in rates means retailers just can’t catch a break.”

For the last five months footfall has been down due to a sewerage upgrade, which will continue for another eight months.  Traders have negotiated a move of contractors to areas of the town where less businesses operate for December.

“There are five or six shops closes down in a short period of time. Ballinasloe doesn’t have the footfall of Oranmore or Tuam so we need to more to encourage shoppers into town,” he stressed.

In the recent town plan, some developments were restricted from setting up outside the town centre to discourage a further decimation of the centre.

“A lot of the disciplines that happen in University Hospital Galway could be transferred to Portiuncla. We have the space for it. These are the sorts of things we need to be considering in order to encourage people to return to rejuvenate retail in Ballinasloe.”

Gort is another town decimated by the recent floods, which keep customers at bay deterred by lengthy detours.

“The recovery? It’s a recovery very specific to Dublin. Certainly the small towns are hanging on by a thread to keep going. If they don’t get some break in relation to taxes, rates – they just won’t keep going,” exclaimed Cllr Gerry Finnerty.

So what measures could improve the retail climate in Gort?

“We don’t have proper signage at the M18 so that needs to be addressed. We need people who have gone away to return and live here, build their homes, we need a rates break for people who can’t pay their rates.”

Tuam has experienced a number of difficult years with the ‘big dig’ but now the new bypass is being built, with an increase in footfall around the town, there is a renewed optimism.

The secretary of the Tuam Chamber of Commerce Ann Coen said the key message for the shoppers is to stay at home.

“We want people to stay in Tuam, buy in Tuam, eat in Tuam – stay local, we have everything,” she exclaimed.

CITY TRIBUNE

2020 still far short of private funding target

Dara Bradley

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Galway 2020, the company set-up to deliver the European Capital of Culture next year, remains well behind on its target of raising €6.75 million in private funding.

Making Waves, the bid book that won Galway the designation, committed Galway 2020 to raising income totalling €6.75 million from private sponsors and philanthropists.

The bid book specified that this was income to be spent on operating expenditure for the year-long programme of events.

With less than a month to go before the official programme is unveiled, Galway 2020 declined this week to confirm how much money it has raised through sponsorship.

Galway 2020 has consistently said that it intends to raise €6.75m in sponsorship; and this figure has been quoted in several briefing documents prepared for Culture Minister Josepha Madigan, which were released to the Galway City Tribune under Freedom of Information (FOI).

A briefing note for Minister Madigan dated April 10, 2019, under the heading, ‘philanthropy’, mentioned that some €133,477 had been received in total by Galway 2020 in sponsorship and in-kind support as of December 31, 2018.

In March 2019, a financial report by Galway 2020, confirmed that the company had raised less than €30,000 in private sponsorship income last year. This suggests that some €100,000 of the total raised last year, was in-kind.

When asked to clarify how much cash it has raised from sponsorship, minus in-kind support, Galway 2020 said its “fundraising target hasn’t changed”.

“The current value of the fundraising and partnerships pipeline is €4.5m – this includes a combination of commercial as well as trusts and foundations, comprising funds already committed, proposals submitted and further partnerships that are under consideration. These proposals and agreements are a combination of cash and in-kind support,” it said.

Galway 2020 declined to elaborate on how much of this €4.5 million “pipeline” was income and how much was in-kind support. It also did not say how much of that “pipeline” is already ‘banked’, and how much was not yet collected.

Included in that €4.5 million figure was a “significant corporate partnership with Medtronic”, which has become the health partner of Galway 2020 and sponsor of its Wave Maker volunteer programme, it said. However, Galway 2020 did not elaborate on the cash value – as opposed to any in-kind value – of that agreement, which was announced a fortnight ago.

“The nature of the breakdown of partnership agreements are commercially sensitive to each of our partners,” a spokesperson said.

The sole mention of the term “in-kind” in the bid book is on page 89, where it states: “The Promotion & Marketing budget described above will be supplemented by in-kind marketing benefit from our supporters, strategic partners & producers.”

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

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CITY TRIBUNE

120 households facing eviction

Dara Bradley

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Low-income city households are staring down the barrel of homelessness after a flood of eviction notices were issued this Summer.

Galway City Council has confirmed that landlords have issued a total of 120 Notices to Quit to families and single people in June and July. Twelve were on RAS (Rental Accommodation Scheme) or Long-Term Leasing, and the remaining 108 were on HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) or other social schemes in the private rental sector.

All 120 are on the Council housing wait list, but anecdotally, scores more private tenants have been issued with notices to vacate their apartments and houses – adding more fuel to the ongoing crisis.

The 120-plus evicted tenants are now in the market to find alternative rental accommodation, and are competing with the thousands of third level students who are back in the city this month searching for digs.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

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The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Rowing club resists plans for College Bar canopy

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The development of a canopy outside the bar at NUIG is being challenged by a local rowing club on the grounds that some of its elderly members feel intimidated by the drinkers who use the facility.

Concerns relate to the access to the Eglinton Canal –  it was stated that the erection of the new structure would increase the number of patrons using the area along the pathway.

Earlier this year Galway City Council granted planning permission to NUIG Students Union for the development of an external canopy and covered area at An Sult College Bar.

However, this is now the subject of an appeal to An Bord Pleanála by Corrib Rowing and Yachting Club on the grounds that it will impede the club’s right of way along the canal.

The college bar overlooks the Eglinton Canal and is a popular and reasonably priced haunt for students during the college term.

It was proposed to provide a canopy in addition to their external area. The college bar is a protected structure, given that it is a stone building and is the main pedestrian entrance to the university campus.

The applicants say that due to the sensitive nature of the site, the modern structure of the canopy is proposed to contrast against the protected stone structure and also create “an architectural feature” at the main pedestrian entrance.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play

 

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