‘Business has been bubbling in Strokestown’

J.P.Connolly and John Doorley getting to grips with the “new normal“ outside Beirnes Shop, Strokestown. Picture: Mick McCormack.

By Dan Dooner

The reopening of the Percy French Hotel and the local Bank of Ireland (the latter on a limited basis) has been a major relief to business people and residents alike in Strokestown. The spotlight now moves onto the local pubs in the hope that a successful relaunch of premises’ will lead to further recovery among other local businesses.

Shane Lynskey, local solicitor and Chairperson of Strokestown Town Team, says that a certain level of commerce was maintained in the town throughout lockdown.

“Businesses in Strokestown bubbled along under the surface during lockdown. Some shops closed as well as local pubs and the Percy French Hotel, which was a serious matter of concern for the town.

“Local grocers and food shops, butchers and chemists remained open, which was good. However, the Bank of Ireland closed during lockdown and there were fears that it wouldn’t reopen. Thankfully it has reopened in a limited capacity because it was a great handicap for local business people who had to travel to Roscommon and other places to do their over the counter banking,” he said.

The financial forecast may still be uncertain in some areas but Shane remains hopeful that things will pick up.

“Looking ahead, the pubs have yet to reopen and so it will be interesting to see how social distancing will work. It’s very difficult for local businesses to plan ahead. People have had to be very inventive in how they run their businesses in the presence of this invisible enemy. Things may not return to normal in the near future but we have to remain positive and optimistic,” he said.

Danny Compton owns a local laundrette and dry cleaners and he is also a member of both the Strokestown Traders’ Association and Town Team. He has seen some tangible improvements in recent weeks.

“There has certainly been an increase in footfall in Strokestown since the effects of lockdown started to take hold around the 12th of March. We would have felt the impact from St. Patrick’s Weekend as we would normally have had linen and table cloths from B&Bs and guesthouses. We were down to about 15% turnover from then because they had closed their doors.

“We stayed working behind closed doors as we have a local nursing home (on our books). We put a bell on the front door and worked in behind the counter but we found that very few people were calling into the shop during that time anyway because they were adhering to the lockdown.

“Things started to improve in the second week in May and now we are back up to around 60% turnover. We’ll get there and if the pubs reopen and things go well there then we may even return to 80% turnover. That would be welcome of course but keep in mind that at this time of year we would expect to be at 105%. The restaurants have been badly hit and there are no big parties during what should be our peak season.

“Like most businesses in small towns, we will have to diversify and that means hotel linen and services like that. I think if the pubs reopen with the roller towel systems and mats etc. it will bring in another 20% in the next few weeks,” he said.

While it has undoubtedly been a frustrating period for many local businesses, Danny said it would be unfair to be too critical of the Government in its handling of the crisis.

“We have a new government and this is something that we haven’t gone through before so I don’t think they could have done much more. The government are also handcuffed in a way by the World Health Organisation and by current guidelines.

“I’ve been in business for 23 years and I’ve never seen anything like this. It has affected every business and every country so we’re all sailing in the one boat. But things are getting better: there are boats back on the Shannon, which isn’t too far from here, and Air B&Bs believe they’ll be very busy in the coming weeks with ‘staycations’.

“All in all, if the pubs can reopen and with staycations and restaurants getting into gear then we could see turnover back up around 80%, which wouldn’t be too bad,” he said.

The green shoots of recovery can also be seen just down the road in Strokestown Park House. The highly successful local tourist attraction has also reopened, albeit on a restricted basis for the time being. The Walled Gardens and National Famine Museum are open from Wednesday to Sunday while the popular café is offering a takeaway service. And while the house itself remains closed for the time being, the parklands surrounding it are open throughout the week.