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Retailers upbeat after good year’s trading – despite astronomical energy costs

Retailers across the county are overwhelmingly positive about the sector this year – despite the astronomical energy costs – and they are hoping for a repeat of the unusual trading conditions for 2024.

That’s the view of the Clifden Chamber of Commerce president John Sweeney who reports that retail members of the organisation were very satisfied with how 2023 went.

“I think alright across hospitality and retail the general feeling is that it’s been a good year – who’d bother going to Galway at the moment with the traffic,” he declared.

“A lot of things went in our favour – we had a very good May and June weather wise. and it brought out a lot of people earlier in the season than normal.

“In the tail end of the year we had a lot of American visitors. and they seem to spend more than other tourists. It seems they look on Ireland favourably because there’s no chance of Ireland going on fire any day soon, it’s seen as a very safe destination climate wise, politically wise.

“Clifden has a very good offering, we have Lidl, Aldi, Supveralu. It’s seen as a good alternative rather than fighting the traffic in Galway. People are coming west when heretofore they have gone into the city,” the hotelier told the Connacht Tribune.

“We have good gift shops, fashion boutiques. Our retailers make a big, big effort when it comes to Christmas. They have a Christmas programme, we have a switching on of the lights, every weekend there are a raft of different activities to make Clifden a shopping destination.

“People come to Clifden to relax. If 2024 is as good as 2023 people will be very happy.”

There was a lot of optimism among business owners with the new town plan currently being drawn up by the planners in Galway County Council, with wider footpaths and a more attractive streetscape and greater areas for outdoor dining likely to be recommended. There are also plans for a new town park at the harbour.

“Yes, there are always issues in any town, issues around parking, every year brings a challenge of some sort but there’s a lot of positivity around I believe.”

Also exuding positivity about the state of the nation for retailers in Loughrea is Jarlath O’Connor, who runs O’Connor’s Centra and the News ‘n’ Choose store on the main street.

“A solid year” is how the owner operating for 20 years describes trade in 2023.

“It hasn’t been spectacular by any means, but we’ve managed to stay above water, keep it ticking along despite the challenges of the cost of energy and an increase in the minimum wage – I mean our energy bills went up €60,000 in a year – so you have to find that extra money to pay for that,” he explains.

“But we’re happy with how we’ve done. Loughrea as a town has managed to hold its own, especially when you hear all the horror stories elsewhere. We have a lot of local support for businesses, in the last year there’s been a proliferation of coffee shops and eateries.

“People see it’s a nice place to come to for a few hours, they come to shop, particularly young people – nobody wants to go to Galway and contend with the kind of traffic I’m currently sitting in in Briarhill.”

The businessman sells books, cards, gifts and stationery as well as operating a busy deli. He has diversified the store in recent years and finds that his customer base stretches from as far as Portumna, Gort, Athenry, New Inn and Castleblakeney.

There’s a real sense of loyalty among the public for local businesses, such as butchers, bakers, cafes because of their sponsorship of local sports teams.

Recent research has found that 70% of people in Ireland now shop regularly online – a pattern which does not bode well for small businesses. Economists say that every €1 spent locally generates up to €2.50 in the local economy; spending with e-retailers based overseas brings no economic or social benefit to the country.

Jarlath believes the new local area plan currently being formulated needs to include more car parking and should not remove cars from the town centre – this was adopted in the UK towns and resulted in their centres being decimated.

“There are one or two buses going in and out of Loughrea, nowhere near enough, so people need to drive and they need more carparking – you have to put the ass and cart in the correct order,” he insists.

“I had a customer in from Salthill and he said it was quicker for him to drive 20 minutes out the road to Loughrea than it was for him to drive into Galway. He was able to park easily, go to all the shops we have, the cafes in comfort.

“The biggest problem he had was the amount of people who wanted to talk to him. It’s one of the charms of being in a market town like Loughrea.”

Chambers Ireland CEO, Ian Talbot, has warned that online shoppers can be in for a nasty shock unless they check that the website they are buying on is really local or Irish.

“A .IE domain is not necessarily Irish.  Global purchases can incur customs duty and taxes.  They may be delayed or lost and returns and complaints are not easy to deal with.  Some festive banter with a local business owner, as you stock up for Christmas is a better proposition all round!”

Retail Ireland estimate that consumers spend around €5 million in the month up to Christmas. Staying local means that money stays local. Small businesses employ around 1.2 million people in Ireland.

“We are a nation of talented entrepreneurs, makers, and service providers, so let’s maintain that proud reputation, and not put all of our eggs in the multinationals’ basket,” David Broderick of the Small Firms Association has urged.

Pictured: Clifden…plenty to offer shoppers

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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