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.
Gang leader jailed for racially-motivated assault
The leader of a gang of youths who were involved in muggings and sometimes racially-motivated assaults around the city over the last number of years has been jailed for three-and-a-half years.
Tom Williams (20), Cluain Fada, Headford Road, actually received sentences totalling seven-and-a-half years at Galway Circuit Criminal Court last week, but the final four years were suspended on condition he keep the peace and be of good behaviour for five years on his release from prison.
Williams pleaded guilty at a previous court hearing to a charge of violent disorder, in that he along with three others acting together used or threatened to use violence in Eyre Square on May 4, 2018.
He also pleaded guilty to assaulting an Afghan national, causing him harm, on the same date.
Williams further pleaded guilty to robbing a mobile phone from another youth on March 14, 2018, and to assaulting the victim’s father when he asked Williams to return his son’s phone.
Sergeant Paul McNulty told the sentence hearing Williams was the leader of a gang which had no regard for law or order.
He said Williams and three others assaulted two young Afghan asylum seekers outside Cafe Express in Eyre Square at around 1.30pm on May 4, 2018.
“Tom Williams instigated the assault and oversaw it as his gang members carried it out,” Sgt McNulty said.
The victims later told Gardai they noticed a group of black males staring at them. The males called them terrorists and asked them what were they doing in this country.
One of the males, later identified from CCTV as Tom Williams, suddenly stuck one of the Afghan youths into the side of his head using his mobile phone as a weapon. The victim fell to the ground where he was punched and kicked by the gang. A member of staff from a nearby cafe, who came to the victim’s aid, was punched into the face by another gang member.
Sgt McNulty said Eyre Square was packed with people at the time this vicious, unprovoked assault took place.
Garda Neil Lydon gave evidence Williams robbed a young boy of his mobile phone and rucksack in the Eyre Square shopping centre on March 14, 2018.
The victim was put in fear and he ran to the taxi rank where his father worked.
Garda Lydon said the victim’s father knew Williams’ father, who is also a taxi driver.
Later that evening the man went to a house where Williams was staying and asked for his son’s belongings.
Williams punched him a number of times in the head, face and body before hitting him across the head with a large salt shaker.
Garda Lydon said the man made an official complaint to him the next day.
“He was quite upset because in his culture, it’s very insulting for a young person to attack a man of his age,” Garda Lydon explained.
Garda Lydon said that neither the man nor his son wanted to give a victim impact statement. He said the son continued to live in fear of the accused and the robbery and subsequent attack on his father had totally changed his life.
In reply to defence barrister, Conal McCarthy, Garda Lydon said he was not aware of Williams having any drink or drug problem. He said the accused lived with his father in Cluain Fada, while his mother lived in Knocknacarra.
Sgt McNulty confirmed Williams had 33 previous convictions and was out on two separate sets of High Court bail for 18 other offences at the time he committed the offences before the court.
He said the accused had two convictions for robberies, one for affray, one for the production of a weapon in the course of a dispute, four for assaults, and the rest for deception, possession of stolen property and drugs.
Sgt McNulty said he knew Williams since he was convicted of assaulting a Polish national when he was 13.
He said Williams was of Nigerian origin and was the leader of a gang of youths in the city who had no regard for the law.
Mr McCarthy said his client had been abusing alcohol and drugs for many years and he was intoxicated at the time of the assault on the taxi driver.
Sgt McNulty said that while he knew Williams for several years he was not aware he had a drink or drug addiction, as suggested by counsel.
Mr McCarthy said his client had also been the victim of racial abuse while in school.
Sgt McNulty was sceptical of this, pointing out that Williams was well over six feet tall since he was 13. “He’s a big lad,” he added.
Judge Rory McCabe said the latest probation report on Williams was very bleak, placing him at a high risk of reoffending and it left him with no option when imposing sentence but to discount any hope of rehabilitation.
For their role in the Eyre Square attacks, other gang members, Goodnews Onyenweson, received a four-year sentence with the final nine months suspended in May of last year, while Mourthadha Badiane received a suspended three-year sentence. A juvenile, who cannot be named, also received a suspended sentence.
Covid-19 drives car sales slump in Galway
The Covid-19 pandemic has seen the sales of new cars and used imports in Galway slump by almost 80% over the past three months.
The coronavirus has also impacted the commercial sector, with the sale of small goods vehicles down 75% and the number of new HGVs drop to just two.
Between the beginning of April and the end of June this year, just 100 new cars were registered in Galway City and county – a massive drop of almost 79% from the 470 registered in the same period last year.
In fact, April saw a virtual collapse of the market in Galway, with just seven new cars registered – down more than 97% from 264 in April of 2019.
Data from the Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI) also shows that secondhand imports in the second quarter of this year were down 78% to 331 (from 1,525).
Looking at the first half of the year, new cars recorded a 25.4% slump from 29,41 to 2,194 when compared to the same period last year.
This category of vehicles is called ‘new passenger vehicles’ and include cars, jeeps, people carriers and caravans.
The majority of the new registrations were diesel (49%); followed by petrol (30%); petrol electric (17%); electric (3%); petrol/plug-in hybrid (1%) and diesel electric (three vehicles).
Galway’s most popular new car so far this year is the Toyota Corolla (134 cars sold); followed by the Hyundai Tucson (87); Toyota Yaris (86); Ford Focus (82) and VW Tiguan (77).
The number of new Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) registered in Galway in the second quarter of this year slumped by 93% – from 28 last year to just two. For the year to date, HGV sales dropped 47% from 66 to 35 here.
For Light Commercial Vehicles (small goods vans), there were 32 registered in the second quarter, down 75% from 128 in the same period last year. For the year to date, sales were down 30% from 549 to 383.
Meanwhile, the number of used cars being imported from the UK into Galway slumped by more than half during the first six months of the year (down 55% from 3,104 to 1,396).
As with new cars, the majority of the imports registered here were diesel (74%); followed by petrol (17%); petrol electric (5%); petrol/plug-in hybrid (3%); electric (five vehicles); diesel electric (three vehicles) and gas (one vehicle).
The most popular imports were jointly the Hyundai Tucson and Ford Focus (68 cars each); followed by the Audi A6 (66 cars); VW Golf (63) and Nissan Qashqai (56).
In recent years, used imports outsold the volume of new cars being registered in Galway, as motorists looked to the UK for bargains and high-end cars with specifications that may not have been available or affordable in the Irish marketplace.
Imports of used small goods vehicles in the first six months of the year were down 30% from 549 to 383, while heavy commercial vehicles were down 47% from 66 to 35.
Galway City Council considers up to 14 cycle routes
Up to 14 routes – split almost evenly between the east and west sides of the city – have been earmarked for major revamps to accommodate more cycle and pedestrian traffic over the coming years.
According to a report presented to the City Council, there is existing funding of €5.8 million to progress the design stages of the schemes.
In a report presented by City Council Senior Executive Engineer, Colm Ó Ríordáin, he also outlined that there was ‘proposed funding’ of €24m for the tender and construction stages of the projects.
This ‘proposed funding’ would be sourced evenly between the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund (URDF) and the National Transport Authority (NTA).
In a separate report by Atkins Consultants, they outlined six routes on the east side of the city which had been earmarked for adaption to facilitate better cycle and pedestrian facilities.
Those routes are: Ballybane Road, Doughiska Road (north), Doughiska Road (south), Ballyloughane Road, Castlepark Road and Monivea Road.
On the Ballybane Road, it is proposed to reduce the existing road carriageway from 10 metres to six metres with a two-metre raised cycle lane on either side as well as two-metre footpath.
Roadways are also to be narrowed on the two Doughiska routes with raised cycle lanes to be provided on either side of the road.
Ballyloughane will be a ‘shared street’ for bikes and vehicular traffic with footpaths widened to two metres on either side.
Raised cycle tracks will be provided on either side of a narrowed carriageway on the Castlepark Road with a similar set-up envisaged for the Monivea Road.
The Atkins report envisages construction works to begin on the Ballybane Road, Doughiska Road (south), Ballyloughane Road and Castle Park Road segments to begin by the end of this year or in the first quarter of 2021.
A Part 8 planning process will be required for Doughiska Road (north) and Monivea Road segments of the project.
Consultants Clifton Scannell Emerson Associates, presented the Galway Cycle Network Stage 2 to councillors outlining the cycle plans for the west side of the city.
The routes as outlined are: Clybaun Road, Bóthair Stíofáin, Bishop O’Donnell Road, Threadneedle Road, Dr Mannix Road, Devon Park, Salthill Road as well as the Eglinton Canal.
On the Clybaun Road, the existing carriageway will be narrowed with grass margins installed, while on Bótháir Stíofáin, the road will also be narrowed with more with a new cycle lane provided as well as footpaths on either side.
Cycle tracks are to be provided on either side of a narrowed Bishop O’Donnell Road with a similar arrangement to apply on Dr Mannix Road.
Better pedestrian facilities are to be provided at Devon Park while the Salthill Road will be narrowed from over 10 metres to six metres with wider paths and landscaping provided. Improvements are also to be made at the Eglinton Canal crossing at New Road.