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.
Street fight thugs from viral video outside Garda HQ avoid jail
From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Two men and a woman who were involved in a ‘staged’ fistfight outside the new Garda HQ in Renmore were warned they will serve prison sentences if they don’t stay off social media for two years.
Suspended sentences were imposed on all three over the incident which was recorded on mobile phone and footage went viral on social media.
The altercation between John Maughan (27), formerly of Rinville Park, Oranmore, who now lives in Dublin, and Patrick Maughan (31), of 122 Laurel Park, Newcastle, was filmed on Patrick Maughan’s phone by his wife, Ellen Maughan (31), who is John Maughan’s sister.
The footage was uploaded that evening to YouTube, where it gained a lot of traction.
Galway District Court heard this week the trio were sitting in their cars when Gardaí arrived at the scene within a matter of minutes.
They were subsequently charged with affray at Dublin Road, Murrough, Renmore, on November 2, 2018, in that all three used or threatened to use violence towards each other, thereby putting other people present in fear for their own safety and the safety of others.
Both men were also charged with breaching the peace.
Garda Pat Casey told the sentence hearing the incident occurred at 2.30pm on the main road between GMIT and the Garda HQ.
He said the men’s cars met, whether by accident or design, at that location where they got out and had a fist fight in the middle of the road.
Judge Mary Fahy asked if the location chosen for the fight, right outside the new Garda HQ, was deliberate.
Garda Casey said the men claimed they met by accident, “but that was where they met”, he added.
“The inference is they did it deliberately outside the Station to make it even better on social media. They are an absolute disgrace to do that in public and to do it in front of their children,” Judge Fahy said.
This is a shortened preview version of this court report. To read the article in full, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.
Cycle plans for Galway City get bumpy ride from councillors
From this week’s Galway City Tribune – A €24 million plan to transform the greater urban area into a cycle friendly zone got a bumpy ride when introduced to city councillors at a meeting this week.
Councillors were presented with four consultants’ report outlining a framework for the narrowing of many city roads to facilitate cycle lanes and better pedestrian access.
However, several councillors hit out at the way the cycling proposals which were presented to them just hours before their scheduled meeting.
Former Mayor of Galway, Cllr Frank Fahey (FG) said that it just wasn’t good enough to have to consider such detailed proposals on city transport issues after only being emailed the details that morning shortly after 11am.
Cllr Declan McDonnell (Ind), said that there was no joined-up thinking as regards the proposals and he asked if the residents of the east side of the city were consulted about what was being proposed.
“There is a real issue here with communication and consultation. We have businesses in Salthill that are down €25 million in terms of their business turnover and yet there was no consultation with them. It’s absolutely crazy going forward with no consultation,” said Cllr McDonnell.
Independent Knocknacarra councillor, Donal Lyons said that he had only received these detailed consultants’ reports just four hours before the meeting – he also wanted to know why Salthill was being treated differently to other areas.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read extensive coverage of the proposals, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.
Four-storey apartment block planned at Renmore cottage site
Planning permission has been sought to construct a four-storey apartment block and three two-storey homes on a 0.8-acre site off the Renmore Road.
K King Construction Ltd is proposing to demolish the existing cottage at 78 Renmore Road to create access to the site, which backs onto Nolan Park.
The plans include 19 residential units in all, consisting of three detached four-bed houses to the south of the site, adjacent to Dún na Mara; 10 two-bed apartments and six one-bed apartments, to be accessed by a new vehicular entrance road where the cottage currently stands.
According to the planning application, the development would provide “a positive net gain of new residential units on an under-utilised infill plot” on lands which are zoned ‘Residential’ in the City Development Plan.
Some 22 car parking spaces are to be provided on-site – two for each detached house and one space per apartment unit; in addition, 34 covered bicycle parking spaces are provided for.
Each apartment will have a balcony while a children’s playground is proposed for an area south of the apartment block.
The materials and finish of the buildings are to be similar to those used in the adjacent Dún na Mara development that was completed in recent years by the same developer.
The development would include provision for new pedestrian access for residents to Nolan Park/Renmore Playing Fields by utilising “previously inaccessible” recreation and amenity lands.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read it in full, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.