CLOSED BUT OPEN Adrian Cawley has continued to trade online at www.portfashion.com while his retail businesses Schu-it and Port Femme have had to close their doors during Level 5 restrictions.
Adrian Cawley hopeful for a busy Christmas and a booming 2021
Westport businessman Adrian Cawley is of the belief that the government must do all it can to make Christmas a success for small retailers.
Adrian – who owns the Schu-it shoe shop on Bridge Street and Port Femme Ladies Boutique on Shop Street - says that Westport ‘died a death’ as soon as Level 3 restrictions were introduced across the country.
While ‘non-essential’ retail could continue to trade under Level 3, hotels were forced to close, while restaurants and cafés were restricted to outdoor service. Adrian says this caused a huge drop in footfall for traders in the town.
“There is no difference between Level 3, 4 and 5. Once Level 3 came in, you could’ve closed down Westport … it was a ghost town,” he says.
“Even where cafés could do outdoor service, that wasn’t working. It was like Level 5. Level 2 was fine, trade was good. Level 3, 4 and 5 is pretty much in the one bracket.”
Adrian says the closure of hotels hit the town particularly hard. With less movement of people, he says business declined by ‘50 or 60 percent’ when Level 3 came in.
“We’d have big business around the hotels,” he says. “We’d have customers from all throughout the country that’d [stay] in the Castlecourt or whatever hotel they’re in and they would buy two or three times a year, any time they come to Westport.”
He adds: “They were never looking for a product discount; they were just looking for quality. On a Monday in the Castlecourt you could pull €600 or €700 out of seven or eight customers. That’s all gone unfortunately. Hotels are crucial to Westport.”
With Covid-19 figures declining nationally since before Level 5 restrictions began to take effect, small retailers are holding out hope that Christmas can be saved if restrictions are relaxed in the coming weeks.
Since having their doors shut for a second time this year, small independent retailers have had to depend on online shopping and click-and-collect for footfall.
Nine years of online trading has stood to Adrian’s businesses during both of this year’s lockdowns, with both continuing to do a steady trade.
“From the outset our online business would’ve gone up,” he says. “During the first lockdown online click-and-collect was a little bit busier on the local side of things. The weather was good, spirits were still good, people were out and about, there probably was a little more going on.
“I’d have done a lot of local deliveries to customers that would’ve supported us while we were open. I’d have jumped in my jeep around 4 or 5 o’clock and gone around and did my business from a distance.
“They appreciated it and it was nice to see a face that they were used to talking to. That kept us in tune with our customers. It wasn’t just DPD delivering to them, it was us.”
In the last few weeks, Adrian says click-and-collect has been ‘a bit slower’. However, online orders have been on the increase again, with sales to Northern and the UK increasing substantially.
Citing the awareness raised by the media and the Westport Chamber of Commerce, he believes people are increasingly conscious of the importance of shopping local this festive season.
He says: “Towns have copped on to the fact that they’ll close if they don’t support local. People are definitely buying off Irish websites more rather than going to the UK and Europe. I’m hoping that’s hitting home.”
Having adhered to the guidelines given to retailers all throughout summer, Adrian says there is little preparation to be done for reopening their Shop Street and Bridge Street premises on December 1.
While a good Christmas trade won’t compensate for an ‘atrocious’ 2020, Adrian foresees better days ahead for in Westport.
“Westport blooms in July, August and September. I think we’ll get five to six months out of it next summer,” he says. “January and February might be lean but I seriously think Westport will be on the top list of everyone’s ‘go-to places’ to visit because of all the outdoor activities we have. I think it’s going to be really good because people won’t be leaving the country in their droves like they normally do. Westport will be top of the list.”