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Sat, May
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‘It is a different Bridge Street than we usually see’

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BUSINESS AS USUAL McGreevy’s at the bottom of Bridge Street has remained open during lockdown.  Pic: Conor McKeown

Newsagent Donard McGreevy believes all is not yet lost for business in 2020

Anton McNulty

WITH the west of Ireland experiencing the highest temperatures of the year so far, there is nothing better to cool down than an ‘99 ice-cream. Having scooped the award for the best ‘99 in Ireland back in 2014, McGreevy’s on the corner of Bridge Street would in normal times be thronged with sunburnt faces eagerly queuing to taste their famous ‘99.
“In normal circumstances I would have a queue out the door for ice-cream, especially with the reputation we have here. But now there are no queues – because there are not many on the street,” lamented Donard McGreevy, who is now the fourth generation of the McGreevy family to work in the family business, which first opened in 1904.
Situated at the bottom of Bridge Street, the iconic shop is one of the few businesses along Westport’s main thoroughfare to remain open during the Covid-19 pandemic. At this time of the year, the street should be thronged with people enjoying the fine weather but Donard says that since the lockdown restrictions came in in March, the buzz has gone out of the street.
“It is a different Bridge Street than we usually see, especially on a nice evening, when you’d have people sitting outside and there would be a buzz around the town. Now that buzz has gone, it’s eerie. I think we are the last shop to close on Bridge Street at seven in the evening and that’s it. There is nothing open again until we open at 8am the next morning,” he explained.

Pedestrianisation
In the last couple of weeks, there has been suggestions that a pedestrianisation of Bridge Street would help businesses with social distancing for the remainder of the summer. While not entirely agreeing with the concept, Donard acknowledges something has to be done.
“I don’t think you can pedestrianise it fully because you need the flow of traffic through the town. Maybe, come 7pm in the evening, they can close it off and bring tables onto the street … that could be a good option. Something needs to be done to get the buzz back again in the centre of the town.
“If the chamber of commerce and county council sit down and come up with something to benefit everyone, it will be welcomed. Going forward we are used to being busy in the summer and we are very lucky in Westport that we  have had that. To lose that totally this summer would be very tough ... I do think we need to do something as a community in Westport.”
Donard described the grocery side of the business as ‘ticking over’ with people coming in for the essentials such as milk and bread and the paper and magazines before leaving again.
“People are cautious about being out and about. There is no hanging around the shops anymore ... they come in get their bits and pieces and go again.”

Toy story
The one area of the business which they have had to make drastic changes to is the toystore upstairs, which they had to close. With a new supply of stock bought for the Easter and summer season paid and sitting on the shelf, Donard and his wife Laura decided they had to go down the online route.
“We never sold anything online before … but if we didn’t do something about it we would be sitting on mountains of stock.”
After a number of late evenings in late March, they set up toysdirect.ie and launched the website at the beginning of April. Donard admits it has been a learning curve but it is something now they don’t regret and intend to keep doing.
“It has been good but it will not make up for the losses we have experienced over the last few months. We have had a good response from customers saying they would prefer to buy off smaller businesses rather than a larger retailer which is good, especially in the times we are in. Because we are not a large retailer, we have added personal touches like adding free wrapping for birthday parties and we have thrown in a pack or Haribos which has gone down very well. It is something we needed to do to get us out of the hole we found ourselves in.”

Hope
During the last few weeks, Donard had noticed more people venturing out and while it is going to be a difficult few months ahead, he had not given up on 2020 just yet.
“I don’t want to say the year will be written off entirely but it depends on how the restrictions will be lifted and there is such a long way to go. The hotels plan to open for July 20 which will be brilliant but you don’t know if people are going to have the confidence to travel around. They could also say we have been stuck at home for months so let’s get out and start travelling around. It is hard to know what people’s mentality will be after being in lock-down for such a long time. Nobody knows what will happen with this virus … we just have to adjust with what is being thrown at us and do the best we can.”