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Gort becoming a ‘ghost town’

Sarah Harty sits outside her Gallery Café at Queen Street, Gort. Photograph by John KellyA Gort businesswoman is calling on Galway County Council to offer more support to the community, which has seen 25 businesses close their doors in the last two years.

Sarah Harty, proprietor of The Gallery Café on Queen Street has called on the local council to “wake up” to the effect the Gort bypass has had on footfall in the town.

“Bypassing a town isn’t a bad thing, in fact it offers a much-needed efficient transport system nationwide but surely there is a way that it doesn’t kill the town in the process – isn’t that the point of a bypass, that it supports the heart of something?

“Gort is one of many towns that are trying to reinvent themselves to attract people off the new bypass.

“However, with 25 businesses closing in the last year it is fast becoming a ghost town.  There is naturally going to be a ripple effect to any bypass and more vulnerable businesses will encounter hardship, but surely the local council can be more supportive to the ones that do exist so the town doesn’t die completely. They need to wake up, the town is dying,” she said.
She too has been met with barriers from the local council in trying to keep her business alive.

“I have been running a business for eight years in this town, employing up to 16 people. In order to reinvent my business, I needed to enhance the outside of my property to attract people in.

“After spending thousands each year on council rates, the council rejected my claim to improve the pavement outside, which was a myriad of potholes – completely unsightly and near reckless for any passer-by, due to lack of budget.  So I took matters into my own hands and put up an attractive decking. This decking feature was instrumental in attracting people down this formerly little known side street of Gort, spreading business around this side of town.  I was then asked to remove this by the council, as it didn’t comply with their regulations, which I duly accepted.

“However, during the recent hot weather, my restaurant was too uncomfortable to sit inside, so I put tables and chairs outside on the pavement in order to keep my business going, making sure not to obstruct anyone. I then received a letter with a summons to court and a fine for doing so,” she said.

Frustrated with the situation, Ms Harty said she has hit a wall and is now considering closing her doors.

“This lack of support for small businesses is killing our town and I can’t afford the fine, plus my rates. I feel I am getting no support from our local government,” she said.

Ms Harty said The Gallery Café is one of many businesses that are struggling and while she accepts, understandably, rules and regulations are in place for a reason, she believes local government “should be able to take matters into their own hands to have some flexibility in order to allow their town stay alive”.

“In many towns across the country, the only free car parks are those in the growing mass of global supermarkets. Gort is no exception. Aldi and Lidl have a free car park.  When the town requested a free car park to encourage commerce in its centre, it was told to use the supermarkets’ ones on the outskirts. Thus encouraging money to be spent in larger supermarkets and adding yet another bypass to the small to medium local enterprises in the centre of towns.  These local enterprises are crucial in pulling the look of a town together, giving it a community spirit,” she said.

Original businesses with an entrepreneurial spirit should be encouraged, protected and directed, not suffocated Ms Harty added.

“If these larger businesses are being given incentives to be established in the outskirts of these towns, why can’t there be initiatives for the smaller businesses as well,” she continued.

Ms Harty stressed that while it is accepted times are difficult at the moment, landlords in the town are being more flexible to local businesses, she asked why the local council can’t do the same.

“Why can’t they get the ball rolling by supporting what they have before it all closes and then it will be too late to keep the town alive. It seems that common sense has been thrown out the window.  Surely, it is crunch time for everyone to adapt to the changing times – this includes the local councils,” she said.

Ms Harty believes it is only by keeping local, authentic businesses alive that places like Gort will stand a chance of existing beyond the impact of a bypass.

“It is a means of attracting people to detour off the main road, it adds value to the town and the experience of the person’s journey through Ireland.  This is instrumental for tourism and local communities structures alike.

“Surely that is the role of the local council, to keep these structures alive and healthy,” she concluded.

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