BUSINESSES in Cork are preparing for a Christmas like no other and say they are hopeful they will be allowed to re-open their doors next week to meet some of the pent up demand from the public.
The current Level 5 restrictions under the Government’s Living with Covid plan are expected to be lifted on December 1st, and while a formal announcement on the new measures isn’t expected until later this week, reports suggest a move to Level 3 restrictions is likely.
It is not clear at this point whether or not businesses in the hospitality sector will be able to open their doors, but Eoin O’Sullivan, President of the Cork Business Association says that they are urging the Government to allow indoor dining in the run up to Christmas.
“Getting back to nonessential retail is a very positive step,” Mr O’Sullivan said adding “but it is still a concern for us that the hospitality sector needs to get back to indoor dining.
Mr O’Sullivan said that people are looking to get out and socialise and said businesses had implemented guidelines to allow people to do this safely.
“My fear would be if we don't get to a place where we can accommodate people in a controlled manner that people will go and have house parties and make their own arrangements, which isn't controlled...We need to get away from people socialising in house parties and get them into the city and it's good for the economy as well,” he said.
This sentiment was echoed by Cork City Chairperson of Vintners' Federation of Ireland and publican, Michael O’Donovan.
“We’ve said it from the very start that pubs are a very safe environment for people to come into, to enjoy, to socialise and meet - and we are hoping that the Government will give us that opportunity to be able to show them that we can do it again,” he said.
Mr O’Donovan, who runs the Castle Inn in the city said publicans are feeling under pressure as they await an announcement from Government on how the new restrictions will impact them.
“Members are very stressed, very worried...For myself, over 30 percent of my yearly turnover is in December and I know the industry average is around 30 percent in December so it's a lot if you can't open and trade during the month."
Hotels in Cork are also keen to re-open their doors next month and want to be able to accommodate non-residents as well as residents from outside the county, explained Fergal Harte, Chair of the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) Cork branch and General Manager of the Kingsley Hotel.
“We feel that hotels have been associated with very few clusters since March - if you can compare the kind of environment that hotels can provide in comparison to the more home gatherings and things like that you will get in the lead up to Christmas, particularly if hotels are not allowed to provide those facilities,” he said.
Michael Magner, Proprietor at the Vienna Woods Hotel said that being allowed to open in December, while different to previous years, would still be vital to the finances of many businesses who would be used to a “bounce” at this time of year.
“I think that people have played their part for the last almost six weeks. I think it will be incumbent on the Government to bring us to a level whereby we still have respect for the fact that the virus is out there and is still very much part of reality… but we also need to be able to trade and not just hotels but restaurants, bars, hair salons, beauty salons, all the retailers as well, because the reality of it is the (Christmas) spending would typically have started at this point…The timeframe now, given that level 5 is up until the December 1st is that there is a very short window and we have to be in a position to try and salvage some element of the season,” he said.
Claire Nash, who runs Nash 19 in the city and is a director of the Cork Business Association said there is currently an “overwhelming support” for business and a massive pent-up demand for getting out.
She said however, that she was aware that quite stringent restrictions might be needed if businesses are to open.
"The last thing we want is that we’d be in a situation of further lockdown in January and February...I am very willing to sacrifice what we have to sacrifice to get us open without another lockdown. If it means quite stringent restrictions throughout December to roll into a period of no more lockdowns, then fine,” she said.
Ms Nash said while some businesses might be able to open, others will not and she stressed that continued supports are needed for those businesses.
“We will have a different Christmas, but we’ll do our best.”