FRUSTRATED traders at Douglas Village Shopping Centre received “no real answers” to their predicament at a meeting with City Hall officials and some shop owners have confirmed they’ve already begun to lay off staff.
The shopping centre has been closed since a fire tore through its multi-storey car park on Saturday evening.
Traders have been unable to enter for safety reasons and have not been able to retrieve stock or assess the damage.
No definite timeline has been given for a possible reopening as part of the centre and car park is due to be demolished after suffering structural damage.
Dozens of traders met with City Hall officials today and had hoped to meet with the owners of the shopping centre but no representative was present at the meeting.
“There were issues discussed but they mainly focused on the trade around Douglas Village Shopping Centre,” said Vicki Creber, owner of Itso me boutique.
“There were discussions around parking and other aspects aimed at keeping that trade going at the moment.”
But Ms Creber said there were no answers for those affected within the shopping centre. “There was no one there to represent that point of view and there was no one there to give us any information. We need a representative from the owners to come forward and provide us with information and, if possible, a timeline going forward.
“That’s the crucial thing for all of us at the moment.
“There are a lot of questions that need answering.”
Ms Creber admitted she has found it hard to sleep since the fire. Concerns have also been raised for the hundreds of staff members employed in the shopping centre, many of whom are now out of a job.
Alastair Spink of Puccino’s revealed he has had to let seven staff members go.
“We need to reopen as quickly as possible,” he said.
“Our key objective is to have the support to get open because last time [2012 floods] we were personally closed for 11 months.
“That was a disaster for us because when we reopened the customers had to find elsewhere to go.
“That meant we couldn’t even cover our food and labour costs,” he added.
“The time we were closed because of the flood was very long because we had to completely rebuild the unit because of the dirty water etc.
“This time, hopefully, the damage won’t be as extensive to the individual trading units.
“We’ve got 14 staff and we’ve laid off about half of those so far.
“We’re trying to reallocate the others in the short term.
“The other key for us is trying to retain our staff because they’re a very big feature of our business.
“If we could get open quickly, we could probably take the hit but realistically, if we’re closed for more than a month or six weeks, then even the senior staff we’ll have to let go as well.
“For us, the key priority is to get open as quickly as possible even if the car park is yet to be rebuilt.”
Some traders have been able to reallocate staff to other locations while others are utilising home delivery services or looking into opening a pop-up shop.
Michael O’Connor of Pharmacy First Plus, based in Douglas Village Shopping Centre, revealed the pharmacy has turned to deliveries to ensure patients who require medicine from the pharmacy are not impacted.
He said the delivery service has been busy. “We started deliveries on Tuesday and we didn’t finish up until around 9pm last night.
“We’re just trying to maintain as much of our customer base as possible and to facilitate people.
“They’re worried about their own medication and we’re trying to alleviate that,” he added.
The pharmacy has been in business at the shopping centre since 1976, when it was established by Mr O’Connor’s father.
He explained that there needs to be support for the existing tenants.
He also called for the elimination of parking charges in Douglas Village.
“That’s 1,000 parking spaces gone as a result of the fire,” he explained.
“The only spaces that are available now are those that are charging by the hour and that’s a huge disincentive to come into Douglas.
“There are other businesses in Douglas that are going to be impacted by the loss of parking spaces in the shopping centre,” he added.
“They’re going to start feeling that pain so for the area of Douglas, we need help from local government to alleviate as much of that pain as possible.”
In terms of his own staff, Mr Connor said management was able to redeploy them and the pharmacy is taking calls on a mobile phone.
“We’re lucky to have the support of another pharmacy in the group which are accommodating our staff.
“That has been a huge help to us and has allowed us to get up and running.
“We also got our phones diverted to a mobile early on Monday morning so we are taking calls and directing people on what they can do,” he said
However, for some, pop-up stores and delivery services are not an option because the bulk of their stock is trapped in the shopping centre.
“I can’t look at pop-up shops because all my stock is in the shopping centre that we can’t get access to,” said Ms Creber.
She added that any long term delays in accessing her stock currently trapped in the shopping centre and trading again could be “catastrophic”.
Ray O’Brien of Music Zone added: “For me at the moment, I really need to get access to my stock.
“I got a call from a woman today who turned up to the shop to buy three packets of strings but they’re in the shop and I can’t get to them.
“I’m completely hamstrung at the moment — a lot of us are,” said Mr O’Brien.
“I’d say it could be six to eight weeks before we can get at our stock.
“I’ve 20 records in the back of my car that were delivered to Falvey’s Pharmacy on Tuesday, and there will be other stuff arriving periodically over the next few weeks and months.
“I’ve to pick myself up and find a pop-up shop to get trading again.
“If I sit on my hands I’ll be gone out of business,” he added.
The aim of today’s meeting, according to council chief executive Ann Doherty, is to hear the concerns of the people impacted by Saturday’s fire.
She said City Hall officials hope to take away the information gained and come back with an “action plan” for traders impacted.
She admitted, however, that the information coming from the shopping centre is changing on a daily basis and that would have a bearing on plans.