With business owners facing the battle of their lives to stay afloat at the moment, a number of Galway restaurants, bars and shops have found inventive ways to stay ticking over in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis.
While some always had take-away and delivery services, others have had to change their business model almost overnight just to ‘keep the door open and the lights on’.
One such business is BóTown, a burger restaurant on Dominick Street which was amongst the first eateries in Galway to close its restaurant and switch to a takeaway service.
Co-owner Frank Greaney says the decision was one that was made with a heavy heart and followed some very “long and difficult conversations” with business partner David Fitzpatrick – but was made in the knowledge that it was for the wellbeing of staff and customers.
“Overnight, we changed our business model from a busy restaurant to a stand-alone takeaway service,” he explains.
“We imposed measures to protect staff, deliver a service and provide a facility to collect food; we put in a protective shield at two entrances – one for delivery drivers and the other for people collecting,” says Frank.
A limit on the number of orders at any one time has helped to ensure that there’s no queuing on the narrow footpath outside, he says, and thankfully, business has been good.
Foremost in their thoughts were staff, who he said they did everything possible to keep on. Four full-time staff have remained in their roles, but part-timers have had to be temporarily let go.
“We helped them out as much as possible with filling out the forms for the Covid Payment and we hope when things return to normal, we can take them back,” he says.
Free takeaways have been made available to these members of staff, while a service providing food to people ‘back West’ who have fallen on hard times is also in operation.
Since BóTown opened its doors almost two years ago, it has built up a loyal customer base and keeping in touch with them is hugely important, says Frank.
A social media running challenge for customers has been set up to raise money for charity, with ‘Run for a Bun’ connecting 100 people selected to run or walk 5km a week during lockdown, recording their activity on the Runkeeper app.
The plan is to have a charity run and barbeque for participants when lockdown restrictions are eased – with a €25 entry fee for participants going to support Claddagh Watch waterways patrol. The response has been phenomenal, says Frank, so much so that the initial target of 25 participants had to be capped when applications reached 100.
While some customers ring in their order, many use apps such as Deliveroo, Just Eat and Uber Eats – all of which take a hefty percentage of what the customer pays for their food. While there isn’t a huge amount of profit to be made, Frank says it’s important to keep going.
“It’s about staying open in some capacity; keeping people in jobs. It’s not about lining our pockets – it’s just to keep the lights on,” he says.
Another business entering the take-away world as a result of Covid is The Twelve in Barna, where Managing Director Fergus O’Halloran says their collection service has been running for the past seven weeks, and has turned out to be a big hit.
“We’ve tried to develop what people wanted; we did three course menu for Mother’s Day and that was very early on in all of this.
“We’ve refined the menu and we test every dish to see what it will be like 20 minutes after it leaves the restaurant. Every week, we fine-tune it a bit; we have a lot of returning customers and they like to see something different on the menu every week,” says Fergus.
As well as this, The Twelve has also started running a ‘Take and Bake’ pizza service where customers can collect all the bits required to recreate the restaurant’s hugely popular pizzas in their own home.
Also famous for its cocktails, Fergus says they’ve now started offering customers nationwide the opportunity to buy them online and have them posted out in vacuum-packed bags – as well as a service whereby customers can pick up a pint of The Twelve’s own brewed stout and lager in one-pint jam jars.
Thanks to these new initiatives, Fergus has been able to keep 15 of their 90 staff on, as well as retaining one part-time role.
“I just wasn’t going to close the doors. There was a lot of social pressure to close at the beginning of this because that was all people could see, but I didn’t want the hotel to go to sleep and to lose our team – we had to dig deep and keep going,” he says.
The Twelve opened its doors in 2007 on the eve of the last financial crash – what they learned then will, he says, hopefully keep them going through this current crisis.
Pubs have been closed since before St Patrick’s Day, and it would appear that they will be one of the last places to reopen.
Crowe’s in Bohermore is one of those pubs trying to find a way through, and with the launch of its barbecue packs last weekend, Mike Crowe hopes they may have found something that will help carry them.
“Our barbecue area is one of the most famous in the city. With this, we’re offering all the products you need to recreate it – the meats, salads, potatoes – in a box ready to go,” says Mike.
“We deliver it ourselves or people collect it at an appointed time – they just pull up and we put it in their boot. They pay by card so there’s no contact.”
Mike, who is a Fianna Fáil city councillor, says there will be big changes required to ensure the hospitality sector has a fighting chance – including consideration of pedestrianisation of parts of the city centre to give outdoor space for businesses to operate.
“This will require radical thinking from some people, and a willingness to change from others,” says Mike.
One of the newest businesses in the city – The Filling Station Eco Store on Abbeygate Street – has also been trying to find a way through.
The shop, which offers package-free goods in an attempt to cut down on plastic waste, was on an upward trajectory before this crisis, but has been hit hard, says owner John Tedders.
To fight back, they’ve set up a website offering postal delivery and collection on two days a week.
At thefillingstationecostore.ie, customers are able to buy what they had been getting in-store and have it sent out to them – and while this is made further difficult by the shop’s commitment to cut down on packaging, containers that can be reused in the future are being provided.
“The people that were supporting me want good organic food without plastic. One woman contacted me to say she was so happy the day we opened for that reason, and said she will support us in any way she can – I think we have built up good relationships with our customers,” says John.
While the future remains uncertain, like so many more businesses, John says he is resolute that they have to keep going.
Survey to look at parking and transport in Salthill
Residents, businesses and visitors to Salthill have been encouraged to take part in a survey being carried out by the City Council as part of a parking management study.
The study – funded by the National Transport Authority – will explore active travel (walking, cycling) measures along the Prom and will make recommendations on the regulation of parking in the Salthill area.
The Village Salthill group – which represents businesses in that area – have asked everyone to participate in the survey to ensure that the interests of all sectors are considered.
Pete Kelly, spokesperson for Village Salthill, told the Galway City Tribune that they wanted to approach the issue in a reasoned way – starting with participation in the survey.
“We will be engaging with the City Council, and the councillors, in a constructive manner on the whole parking issue but the vital thing for people to do now is to take part in the survey.
“Last year’s summer tourist season was largely rescued by the numbers of family groups who visited the resort and they are people who in the main use their cars to get here.
“We are also looking a population base of around 20,000 people in the Knocknacarra area who would be interested in looking at a better way of life in terms of movement and greater use of public transport,” said Mr Kelly.
Local councillor, Donal Lyons, told the Galway City Tribune that there were many different views to be taken into account as regards parking and traffic management in the Salthill area.
“I am appealing to residents of the Salthill and overall area to respond to this survey and to make their views known. Sometimes, surveys like this, can be dominated by lobby groups. Make sure as locals to have your say,” said Cllr Lyons.
Jimmy Callan, Acting Senior Engineer with the Council said that while the character of Salthill had changed over time, the area still retained its distinctive character and amenity value.
“The purpose of this parking study is to establish a relationship between how people are using Salthill, and where they choose to park.
“Previous public consultation in relation to Covid measures in summer 2020 showed that there is a strong demand to look at how travel and parking is managed in Salthill in the longer term,” said Mr Callan.
Submissions can be made at activetravelgalway.ie and the deadline is Saturday, July 10.
Telecoms company seeks permission to continue work halted by Council
Eir has sought permission to retain a concrete foundation it constructed for a mast at Drom Oir in Knocknacarra – a site where the communications company was forced to abandon works in April after the Council deemed it an unauthorised development.
The telecoms company is also seeking permission for the installation of a mast 12 metres in height, carrying an antenna, as well as ‘ground-based equipment cabinets and all associated site development works for wireless data and broadband services’.
Residents opposed to the structure have citied serious concerns over the potential visual impact of the mast, as well as the impact it may have on the values of their properties.
In the application, it is stated that the structure will be coloured in a galvanised finish, assimilating with ‘the typical sky colour in Ireland and surrounding built form’, but says it will be possible to use a green paint finish which could be requested by way of a conditional grant of planning permission.
“The proposed height, colour and design represent the best compromise between the visual impact of the proposal on the surrounding area and meeting the technical requirements of the site.
“Taking all matters into account, it is considered that this proposal which is to provide new 3G (data) and 4G (high speed data) broadband services, for Eir Mobile and a second operator on a single structure as opposed to having eventually two separate structures in this area, would not be discordant within the local environment.”
The application argues that the proposed development benefits from an existing wall (which partially screens it from the housing estate), a line of vegetation, semi-mature and mature trees along both sides of the Western Distributor Road, which will help to screen the site from this direction.
The structure is described as ‘an attractive pole’ that will blend with the area and give significant benefits by providing the ‘most up-to-date wireless broadband and data services.
Eir notes that it is aware of its requirements in relation to management of electromagnetic field radiation and states it is ‘committed to management of risk to our employees, members of the public and any other groups who may be affected by our networks’.
It states that all their radio base stations are ‘safe by design’ to meet international health and safety standards and best practice.
In a submission to Galway City Council, Leitir Búrca residents Oran Morris and Rebekah D’Arcy have objected to the proposal on grounds including that there are deficiencies in the application; that the mast is in close proximity to residents; and that the development will devalue property.
They contest the assertion that the mast will ‘improve coverage in the surrounding rural area’. “The predicted improvements to coverage do not include a single third class road. This justification is clearly for a rural area and not applicable to Galway City.”
They state that the proposed location of the mast is at the heart of a residential area, within 100 metres of 52 houses, with the closest at 51 Drom Oir which is just 29 metres away.
This, they argue, is in contravention of the City Development Plan, which states “only when a number of other possibilities have been exhausted, masts may be erected within or in the immediate vicinity of residential areas”.
They stress that the structure is unlike any other structure along the Western Distributor Road and will be out of character and visually obtrusive.
“The proposed development would be in direct line of sight from every front-facing window in our property, which is located 52m away . . . this is also true for numerous other properties in Leitir Búrca.
“These factors combined would undoubtedly decrease the value of our property. We retained the services of two separate registered auctioneers to value our property and estimate the devaluation due to the mast. Both reports estimated the devaluation to be between €90,000 and €100,000,” they state.
‘Excessive’ Galway Docks hotel rejected by planners
Galway City Council has turned down scaled-back plans for a 10-storey hotel at Galway Docks, branding it “excessive”.
Last September, Summix BNM Developments lodged a planning application with the Council for a three-storey to eleven-storey hotel (with a rooftop bar and function area) on site of the former Bord na Mona coal yard at the Docks.
The plans also included a restaurant, coffee bar and terraces.
However, the Council sent the company back to the drawing board and told it to revisit the overall scale, height, massing and intensity of the development, but said that the architectural quality of the proposed building is of a good standard.
Planners said there would be a “resultant overbearing expression” onto the Forthill Cemetery and the Long Walk ACA (Architectural Conservation Area). They sought a detailed assessment of the visual impacts on the graveyard.
The Council said that with a height of 38m and length of 70m-90m facing Bóthar na Long and Forthill Cemetery, the building “is not considered to assimilate well; lacks integration with the existing urban form; fails to achieve the visions and aspirations of the Galway City Development Plan . . . detracting from the character and setting of the area”.
The developers came back with scaled-back plans – they reduced the scheme to a maximum of 10 storeys (a height reduction of three metres) and the number of bedrooms reduced from 186 to 174 on the 0.55-acre site.
In its decision to refuse planning permission, the Council said the excessive density, scale and height on a very constrained site would represent overdevelopment of the site and would have a detrimental impact on the character and setting of Forthill Cemetery.
“The development does not adhere to the principles of good urban design set out in the Galway City Development Plan and in this regard, it is considered to lack the capacity for integration with the existing urban form, contribute positively to street enclosure and fails to sympathetically assimilate with Galway’s townscape,” the decision reads.
A submission from the Harbour Hotel – located opposite the site – welcomed the redevelopment of the vacant site but said the build and massing of the building would create “a visually dominant feature on this prominent corner location which will have an overbearing impact on the street scene and Forthill Cemetery”.
It added that the height would have a detrimental impact on the existing built and natural heritage of the area.
The submission also noted there were no carparking spaces provided in the plans, and there is a shortage of spaces in the city centre.
The Harbour Hotel submission claimed that the additional bedrooms would result in an overconcentration of tourism accommodation and an “excessively transient” population in the vicinity of the site.
City Council Heritage Officer, Dr Jim Higgins, said in his view the site should not be developed as the possibility of fort-related archaeology being present there is high.
He said that in the 1960s, a well was found on the CIE side of the site, close to the boundary wall.
According to the planning application, demand for hotel rooms in Galway will exceed “pre-Covid” levels by 2023.
“Provision of hotel accommodation at this location will enhance overall visitor experience on offer in the city, with convenient access to a broad range of attractions, as well as present a major new opportunity to capture a proportion of the spend generated by visitors to the area in a part of Galway City that has been in decline for many years,” the application reads.
Summix – which is headed by British technology entrepreneurs Shukri Shammas and Tareq Naqib – has already partnered with Galway developer Gerry Barrett on the approved plans for 360 student bed spaces on a site at Queen Street, behind Bonham Quay.
They have also partnered on the recently-approved €320m regeneration proposal at Ceannt Station called ‘Augustine Hill’, which includes homes, a new shopping precinct with four public squares, a multiplex cinema and eleven streets linking the city centre with the Docks and Lough Atalia.
Image: An architect’s impression of the hotel (with red facade) alongside the Bonham Quay development