BUSINESSES across rural East Clare have been pulling out all of the stops to support their customer base in a time of crisis, and are determined to keep services going in the midst of the Covid-19 restrictions.
Even before the Coronavirus hit, many communities in the east of the county struggled with social isolation, meaning local businesses are a lifeline. But, with long commutes to work another facet of rural life, small retailers can find themselves overlooked and losing out to the big multiples in larger towns. Against the backdrop of the lock-down and strict controls on travel and social distancing, some smaller outlets have experienced a boost to their business and are hopeful that shopping locally could become more popular in the long-term.
In Tulla, Kate Murphy who runs the popular Holly Tree Café on Church Road in Tulla, was facing into the prospect of long-term closure as the lock-down took effect. Now, with a little imagination, creativity and the help of family members with construction expertise, she has managed to keep a take-away element of the business open – an initiative that has been warmly welcomed in the community.
“I began to realise early on that a tiny café like mine would just not be able to have customers on the premises and implement social distancing,” Kate said. “We’ve all got to follow the rules to keep everyone safe and we’re very serious about that. So I knew it would not be possible to keep the café open.”
Thanks to the construction expertise of her husband and her brother, Kate was able to convert the front window of the café into a service hatch. “It’s the Holly Tree Hatch now, and it has worked out really well so far, the fine weather has really helped,” she said. “We do have to operate on a much smaller scale and can’t offer our breakfast menu, but we are able to take orders for our baked products, lunches and coffees. We ask people to ring ahead with their order and we’ll have it ready for them when they arrive. We’ve put a couple of measures in place to ensure social distancing and so far, so good. We’ve been lucky to be able to do this, I’m conscious that other businesses couldn’t do this.”
Kate also ensured her regulars who are cocooning were looked after over Easter and made a number of deliveries of her popular tarts and cakes. “It’s good for people to get a small bit of normal life back,” she said. “It really means a lot to people.”
In Feakle, Smyth’s General Merchants have adapted to the Covid-19 restrictions by offering deliveries and dropping orders directly into customer’s cars. Smyth’s is a landmark in the local community and proprietor Niall Smyth said the travel restrictions have prompted people to shop local.
“People are definitely shopping locally now, particularly for the staples,” he said. “We are lucky because customers normally come in in twos and threes, so implementing social distancing has been straight-forward. If people are isolating or concerned about contact, they can ring ahead and we’ll have their shopping ready to put straight into their boot. We do deliveries too. It is a strange time. We would be anxious that the elderly in our community are being looked after. But this situation has brought out the best in people also.”
In Scariff, residents are beginning to look with fresh eyes on what is available locally. Joey Kavanagh of Kavanagh’s Craft Butchers told The Champion that the Covid-19 restrictions have prompted the welcome return of home-cooking: “If people want to eat, they have to cook. We are hoping that people might consider shopping local in the long-term. That’s not to say that they won’t flock back to the big supermarkets, but there is certainly a sense that they appreciate their local shops in this time of crisis.”