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.
Gardaí raid cocaine lab in Galway City
Two men have been arrested following a Garda raid in which a cocaine laboratory was discovered in Galway City.
In total, Gardaí seized €178,500 in cash, €50,000 worth of cocaine (subject to analysis) and a number of drug manufacturing components as part of an intelligence-led operation into the sale and supply of drugs in the Galway Garda Division.
At 7.40pm yesterday (Sunday) the Divisional Drugs Unit in Galway stopped and searched a car on the M6 motorway in the vicinity of Loughrea where €17,580 worth of cash was seized.
As part of a follow-up search, Gardaí uncovered what is believed to be a cocaine processing laboratory and seized cocaine (pending analysis) with an estimated value of €50,000 at an address in Galway City.
At this address, Gardaí seized a quantity of mixing agent, a cocaine press, vacuum packer, industrial gas masks, and a cash counting machine, which are believed to have been used in the manufacture of cocaine for sale or supply.
In a further follow-up search, Gardaí seized €161,000 in cash at a separate premises in the city.
One man in his 20s was arrested following the detection on the M6, while a second man in his 30s was arrested at a property in Galway City.
Both men are currently detained at Galway Garda Station under Section 2 of the Criminal Justice (Drugs Trafficking) Act 1996.
These seizures were part of an intelligence led operation and were detected by the Galway Divisional Drugs Unit with the assistance of the Western Regional Armed Support Unit.
Two arrested in Galway over spate of burglaries
Two men in County Galway have been arrested as part of a Garda investigation into a series of burglaries in businesses in Limerick and Tipperary.
As part of the operation, three houses were searched yesterday (Saturday) morning in Co Galway and two men in their 20s were arrested. They were brought to Henry Street and Roxboro Road Garda stations in Limerick, where they were detained under Section 50 of the Criminal Justice Act, 2007.
During the search operation, two vehicles were also seized for technical examination.
The eight burglaries were carried out in the Limerick and Tipperary area in the early hours of last Wednesday morning.
As part of these investigations, an operation was put in place by detective Gardaí from Henry Street Garda station with the assistance of the Armed Support Unit in the Western Region and Gardaí from Tipperary, Limerick and Galway.
“It will be akin to the notorious Rahoon flats”
From this week’s Galway City Tribune – More than 700 local residents have signed a petition against plans for the construction of 330 apartments in Knocknacarra – which have been likened to “the notorious Rahoon flats”.
Child safeguarding concerns have also been raised by the principal of Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh – who pointed out that the apartments will look directly into 19 classrooms.
A total of 27 objections were lodged against Glenveagh Living’s plans to build 332 apartments in six blocks – ranging from four storeys to seven storeys in height.
Locals have demanded An Bord Pleanála hold an oral hearing into the plans – that planning authority is due to make a decision by March 20, although it can decide to hold such a hearing first.
One of the objections – which accuses the developer of designing “tenement style” homes in a “blatant attempt to profiteer from the housing crisis” – was signed by more than 700 local residents.
Another objector said the development was “akin to the notorious Rahoon flats, with people being packed on top of each other”.
Locals have raised concerns about the huge number of apartments planned; overshadowing of homes; inadequate open space, playing pitches and community infrastructure; parking and traffic problems; low quality of design and road safety.
Glenveagh Living did not respond to a request from the Galway City Tribune for comment.
This is a preview only. To read extensive coverage of the Glenveagh plans and objections, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. Buy a digital edition of this week’s paper here.