THE recent closure of a number of high profile long established businesses in Ennis has prompted calls for a Government strategy to revitalise rural towns like Ennis.
The decision of Leavy Shoes to close its O’Connell Street outlet after 36 years in business last weekend surprised local retailers and shoppers.
Customers with any outstanding gift vouchers and credit notices are being advised to present them at their retail outlets in O’Connell Street and William Street in Limerick City.
Moody Cow Milkshakes, Abbey Street, Clowntown tattoo parlour and Charlie Stewart’s pub in Parnell Street, Ennis have all shut their doors.
Efforts by the Clare Champion to obtain a comment from the operators of these premises about the circumstances that led to their business demise proved unsuccessful.
A spokesman for Seasons 22 confirmed that while Charlie Stewart’s pub had closed the restaurant would continue to operate upstairs in the premises.
Leavy Shoes director, Thomas Leavy confirmed the Ennis retail unit employed one manager, two employees and one part-time person who had been made redundant following a reorganisation of the business due to the recession.
Mr Leavy said he was very sad and upset about this closure for the employees and his strong family links with Ennis and Killaloe. His mother, Sadie Smith, lived in Ballygreen, Gaurranboy, Killaloe where the family home in still in use. Her uncle, Fr James Smith was the parish priest in Barefield in the forties. Mr Leavy also has a sister living in Ennis.
Ennis Chamber chief executive officer, Rita McInerney confirmed the chamber was very concerned about the loss of any business but particularly a long established retail outlet such as Leavy Shoes.
Ms McInerney recalled the chamber had worked with the town council and other interested parties developing initiatives such as the Purple Flag, the Ennis App and Ennis festivals to increase the number of local shoppers and visitors doing business in the town centre.
She called for the introduction of a new Government scheme, similar to the one that revitalised Parnell Street in the mid nineties to maintain the vibrancy of town centres.
She recalled the recent Retail Excellence survey had highlighted the issue of parking and noted the town centre was in competition with out of town neighbourhood centres where parking was free.
The growth of on-line shopping, she said also needed to be counteracted by providing a vibrant welcoming experience for patrons with a good mix of restaurants, pubs and service providers such as hairdressers that couldn’t be purchased through the internet.
Commenting on the closure of Charlie Stewart’s licensed premises, Ennis Licensed Vintners’ chairman, Charlie O’Meara expressed concern about the demise of another well known and popular bar in the town.
Estimating that up to 15 large pubs in Ennis have been forced to close over the last 20 years, he warned the traditional Irish pub, which was an important tourist attraction and focal point in urban and rural areas, would disappear unless the Government tackled below cost selling.
Mr O’Meara stressed that it was very difficult for publicans to compete with retail multiples who could sell a bottle of spirits below cost and expect patrons to pay considerable more in a licensed premises.
Concern about the closures and the difficulties facing local traders who were struggling to remain in business was expressed by town councillors at an Ennis Town Council meeting on Monday.
While some commentators were writing about green economic shoots, Gearoid Mannion of O’Connell Street Traders warned the situation on the ground was that local retailers were struggling and hanging on by their fingernails.
Describing the recent closures as “worrying”, Mr Mannion said it highlighted the importance of shopping local to ensure the viability of business in the town centre.
He said it was important there were no increases in commercial rates, while there was a strong case to increase the credit flow to sustainable new and existing small and medium enterprises.
Despite the closures, he said Ennis still have a good retail mix, which a lot of towns of similar size lacked after being ravaged by the recession.
He pointed out there was a quick turnover of replacement businesses in Ennis’ main streets. With passenger numbers continuing to increase at Shannon Airport, he is hopeful of increased visitors to Ennis this year. Overall, he is cautiously optimistic for the remainder of the year.