REALLY passionate about his business, the initial lockdown was very hard for Patrick Bourke, and there are probably few people who are as disappointed to be closing again as the retailer who runs prominent men’s clothes shops in Ennis and Kilrush.
“We were closed for 12 weeks already and this is six weeks, so it’s more than a third of the year. Outside of the fact that it’s a third of the year, it’s a time when we would have done 40% of our business,” he said on Tuesday afternoon, as the spectre of lockdown loomed.
While they didn’t run an online store earlier in the year, they have one in place now, just in time for another lockdown. It has made a flying start and Patrick says it will be good for business and will keep him busy over the coming weeks. “We launched online last week, and it has been beyond our expectations. It won’t replace the lost business but it will give us an outlet that we didn’t have before. It’s a learning curve and it’s something we didn’t have before. It’s totally different to our normal business. It’ll be good for our sanity during the lockdown too.”
He says they will also take personal appointments and offer video calls to people who would like to see what is on offer. “We’re going to have to be inventive, like John Burke has been on the hotel side of things.”
Dealing with customers on a continuous basis gives an insight into what people are thinking about an issue that comes up in just about every conversation, and he feels the appetite for restrictions, which was very high in the spring and early summer, isn’t there anymore. “The feeling I’m getting from customers is that they aren’t willing to put the same effort into compliance this time as last time.”
There has been quite a bit of gloom among staff and customers, he feels. “It definitely affected the mood in the shop, everyone who works in the shop is downbeat and has been downbeat for the last week. Before that, believe it or not, we noticed that the customers, their confidence had flattened as well. They knew what was coming and none of them were happy about it.”
Patrick compares the new restrictions to people having to live as if they were in open prisons, and he feels there needs to be some acceptance that life has to continue, despite the risks inherent in Covid-19. “We’re going to have to live with a certain level of it, possibly at the level we’re at now.”
There was something of a feelgood factor as restrictions began to ease in the summer, but with weddings cancelled, Patrick’s business was still well down on what would have been expected. “We would have been trading at about 50%, it was way back. The casual wear was holding up well, in some instances it was increasing a bit, but suit sales were way down, because of weddings, which were a big part of our trade. The weddings were being cancelled left, right and centre. We had two floors that were doing very well, and two floors that were as good as closed.”
He feels that the restrictions being put on retail are disproportionate to their actual impact on the spread of Covid. “If you were to ask me I’d say we are being unfairly penalised, the independent high street shop. We’re not in a shopping centre, not in an enclosed place and we can minimise the number of people in the shop. And it’s not as if we’re ever packed anyway. We’d have a steady business rather than a very concentrated one. I think we’ve been discriminated against and penalised.”