Engaging with the modern youth, liaising with small businesses and invigorating Cork city with a fresh enthusiasm for all things positive is the checklist of new Cork Business Association (CBA) president Philip Gillivan.
Mr Gillivan, who is the owner of the Shelbourne Bar on MacCurtain Street, was elected to the position last week at the 61st Annual General Meeting held at AIB 66 South Mall.
The publican, who has been in business for the past 26 years and has also been instrumental in the branding of the Victorian Quarter, has big plans for his two-year tenure with the CBA.
One initiative the trader hopes to introduce is a partnership with Cork city schools whereby Transition Year students carry out projects to help the modern youth engage with the city centre.
“This is a great opportunity to educate the young people about the challenges that are facing the city and also to find out how we can engage with the 17/18 years to come into the city centre.” Mr Gillivan said he wants to create an annual competition, sponsored by the CBA, which will help engage with the youth of the city as well as giving them an understanding of the problems Cork businesses face and then help come up with the solution.
“I think it is a great opportunity to engage with the youth, be ahead of what they want and what they are looking for.” Mr Gillivan stressed that the modern youth live in a completely different world to the older generation.
“They are not reading the same channels we read in the media. If we joined Snapchat, they would probably leave it. We have to figure out how to make these young people ambassadors in the city. Knowledge is key.” The publican also said that the youth of today may not know the nooks and crannies of Cork city and if something is not done, they may never have the chance to experience them.
“Maybe they are not aware of the small one-off streets like Douglas or MacCurtain Street that Cork has. They don’t understand there may not be a city centre with all these beautiful shops when they are ready to shop in them. They may not be here anymore.” Mr Gillivan stressed that Cork needs to retain these quirky personality elements of the city in order to remain the attraction it is today.
“Cork is like a big town, it needs its own unique character.” Speaking about what Cork needs to compete for tourism on a national and international scale, Mr Gillivan said Cork lacks “a big ticket item.” We need a unique selling point. If someone comes to Cork what is the one thing they come to Cork to look at?
“We don’t have something that people say we have to come and see this. The English Market is incredible but we need a big ticket item.
“We have Blarney Woollen Mills seven miles outside the city, we have Spike Island 10 miles out. Belfast has the Titanic Water and Dublin has the Guinness Storehouse.
“We need to come up with something, it can be a competition, it can be us all coming together and asking the question what can we develop, I am not talking about the council having to come up with something, it should be a commercial venture.
“Is it going to be a science area or new technology, Cork has to be known for something besides the English Market, there has to be something else to draw you in.” Speaking from his experience of building up the Victorian Quarter, which includes the MacCurtain Street and the surrounding area, Mr Gillivan said every part of the city needs to work towards its strengths to create an eclectic mix of retail and cuisine that caters for all.
“What we, as the Victorian Quarter, have done, I think is incredible. We brought a street back from the brink, to one of the busiest night time economies in the city.
“Everyone is talking about the Victorian Quarter around Cork. Six or seven years ago there were only two street lights working on the whole street, half the businesses were closed, there was no ‘Son Of A Bun’, no ‘Fish Wife’, no ‘White Rabbit’, and I am convinced because of the positive message we have put out there, the Metropole has been bought, and it is an incredible turnaround.
“We branded the Victorian Quarter as the Portobello Road, the left bank of the city, we are not high street retail, but we have other quirky things and that is what we want to project so like Douglas Street has quirky shops and that is why people go there, they need to publicise that.
“We can’t all be high street retail, like Patrick Street and Oliver Plunkett Street, so we need to find out what our strengths are and work with them.” As the new CBA president Mr Gillivan has said he hopes to work with the small business of the city to offer any assistance he can provide.
“I am going to make a commitment that I am going to meet all the small businesses in the city over the next few months and engage with them, whether they are CBA members or not, because sometimes small business can feel they are on their own and they have no one to talk to and you know what they say, a problem shared is a problem halved.
“I dunno how many businesses that I have to get to but I’m going to try and get to as many as I can over the next few weeks, leave them my business card and my phone number and if they have concerns then they can come to us and we can try and sort them.” The Cork City trader said that more needs to be done to safeguard to gems of Cork city’s retail streets including social media campaigns.
“The problem is we react when the business is closed, and we are all genuinely sorry, but they just slip away and we have iconic stores in Cork.
“These shops are national institutions but I think there is a role to be played in making people aware of what is in the city. We highlight maybe one shop every week or month, through a social awareness campaign, we all need to think twice before we buy things online and just think if we buy things here it will make a huge difference to the local economy.” With regards working across the city to achieve a more robust commercial centre, Mr Gillivan said positivity is very important.
Mr Gillivan spoke of the ‘six quarters’ of the city and how each quarter can liaise with the council through their nominated ‘champion’.
“Basically what they are trying to do is, within the city council, they have nominated six champions, one for each quarter, which gives people a direct line into city council.” “The traders of the area know what is going on in their area and it is easier for the council if they are dealing with one voice rather than 24 individual businesses going off on a tangent.” Now, Mr Gillivan wants the six quarters to come together to create a cohesive landscape of the city that works well as a whole.
“I'm bringing that positivity to the other quarters and work with them to help their area and then we will do it together with the city centre.” Technology is a key element to the future success of the city according to CBA’s newly elected president Mr Gillivan.
“I also want to work with city council to bring smarter technology, to the city, so, for example, we are all sick of talking about parking. In Dublin you can pay for parking with your phone, you just scan it.
“There is so much technology out there. Cork City needs to move forward. We have to become a smart city.” Looking to the future, Mr Gillivan said he is a firm believer in the Event Centre and the potential business it can bring to Cork.
“I believe it is going to happen. I know everyone is weary and tired of talking about it, but everyone is still at the table and talking about it, if they weren’t there I would be worried.
“I think it will give Cork such a psychological lift when it happens. I think getting it over the line will be a matter of weeks rather than months.
“Simon Coveney has got political capital in this, he really does want this to happen and I think it is a great thing that we have Simon in the position he is in.
“I am a firm believer that it will happen and I think it will be a great day for Cork.” As a member of the CBA Mr Gillivan encouraged all traders across Cork to join the association for the benefit of the city.
“The more flout we have, the more members we have, the more lobbying we can do on behalf of the retailers of the CBA.
If you are a member you are getting the quarterly updates, the emails, you are involved and you have a voice as to the concerns of your area and your individual business.
“It is a lonely place being a business if you don’t have people around you to help you and to articulate your concerns.
Throughout the year we run events, we run conferences, we run information evenings on things like data protection or on how to get your business online There are a lot of positives to join and then you can articulate your concerns, whether they are street lighting or drug use or begging, anything you have a problem with you can go directly to the CBA and they have to get it sorted.”