COMMUNITY spirit is alive and well in the town of Fermoy, where local people have rowed in to support one another through the difficulties of the pandemic.
While businesses and community groups have been enjoying a soft return to normality in recent weeks following the easing of some restrictions, frustrations abound over the lack of clarity on the return to indoor dining.
Speaking about the atmosphere in the town since the easing of some restrictions, Susan Hickey, proprietor of Hickeys Fashion, said people in the town are noticeably “more upbeat” in recent weeks, with al fresco dining in particular proving a hit.
However, she noted that people are eagerly awaiting the return to eating indoors.
“I think a lot of people are waiting for the return of indoor dining.
“Even chatting to people in the shop who can’t get anywhere for a staycation because they can’t get a booking or because it just doesn’t suit their price bracket, they’re really looking forward to dining indoors.”
Ms Hickey said footfall into her shop on Patrick Street in the town has been steady since reopening in May. Hickeys Fashion will have a sale on, starting from Wednesday.
She said the rollout of Covid vaccines has restored people’s confidence in resume normal activities.
“There’s a big increase in the 60+ market coming into the shop which is great. They’re very happy and confident to be out and about,” she said.
“We have been given a glimmer of hope that this is going to be the end of the lockdowns.
“From a business point of view, that’s great.
“Of course, you do still have to be a little bit cautious because even though there is that glimmer of hope that this is the end, it’s not 100% bulletproof,” she said.
During the pandemic, Hickeys Fashion began selling online, which helped boost the business when the physical shop was closed.
“We set up our web shop around September/October time and that really did benefit us.
“We’re active on social media every day and that really does drive traffic to the shop [since reopening]. We have a very wide market in the shop from about 25 to 70+.”
Ms Hickey said she has noticed an uptick in shopping local since the pandemic began.
“Even as regards last Christmas, I’d say the town as a whole saw a massive increase in shopping and spending in the town.
“I definitely hadn’t seen the streets as busy as they were last Christmas for a long time. That’s really positive.
“I think a lot of people weren’t going into the city because they were afraid, and then you realise Fermoy has an awful lot to offer. It really taps into every market.”
Indeed, aside from a range of different businesses in the town, arts and culture are also thriving.
During the lockdown, Fermoy Musical Society moved to create virtual events for people to enjoy at home.
“It all started in March when myself and one of the other girls said we’d chance putting up a duet.
“We did a song from Mamma Mia,” spokeswoman Colette Daly told The Echo.
“It was really well received and so we decided to keep going. For Easter we put up a version of ‘One Day More’ from Les Misérables.
“It got a huge amount of views.
“I think people were just so delighted to see something happening, something different and to have a small bit of escapism.
“Then we said we’d get the teenagers involved.
“We did a version of ‘Summer Nights’ with everyone at home but then when restrictions lifted a bit we decided we’d do it again with the same group of teenagers but we did it outdoors.
“We did that for Culture Night. It was one of two pieces we did. We had so much fun doing that.”
The society recently received the good news that one of their costume designers, Katherine Keane, has been nominated for an Association of Irish Musical Societies (AIMS) award in the ‘Unsung Hero’ category, much to the delight of the society.
“Katherine is amazing and so deserving of the award. We all have our fingers crossed,” Ms Daly said.
It’s onwards and upwards for the society, with more exciting plans in the pipeline.
“We have a couple of projects up our sleeves at the moment, one of them will be a performance from The Greatest Showman.
“We’re finalising details with that, but again it’s going to be a virtual project. We’ve some big ideas for that.
“As regards to when we’ll be back on the stage, we don’t really know yet. We would love to be back on stage before Christmas, but we just don’t know how things are going to evolve.
“Until we do know we will continue to entertain the masses and give back to the people of Fermoy because they’ve been so generous to us over the years with sponsorship and funding.
“It’s not the biggest town by any stretch of the imagination but the businesses never fail to support us. We have a wonderful community.”
Elsewhere in the town, the popular Hanna’s Market & Café also had to change their modus operandi during the pandemic.
“We’re very fortunate that at the front of the restaurant we have big bi-folding doors so the whole front of the restaurant opens right onto the street so what we did was we set up a market.
“We sell all our own cakes and lots of local artisan products.
“We set that up right at the beginning and that just kind of grew and grew — it’s what’s kept us going really,” head chef and general manager Avrum Frankel told The Echo.
Following the news regarding the delay in reopening indoor dining, Mr Frankel said the café will now forge ahead with plans for an outdoor dining arrangement later this month.
He voiced frustration over the lack of clarity on when and how indoor dining will resume.
“I think one of the hardest things for us at the moment is when they put restrictions on us as far as capacity, whether that be social distancing of 2 metres, or even if they told us we’re only allowed 50 percent capacity, then we know exactly how many people we can have in the restaurant whereas we have no idea what kind effect it will have for how busy we’re going to be by only having the fully vaccinated allowed to dine [indoors],” he said.
“I think all along we’ve been comfortable with the reasons why they’ve kept things closed.
“We’ve been diligent with the guidelines but it’s quite gobsmacking that they [the Government] didn’t have a scenario in their own head of what would happen if we delayed indoor dining.
“It’s not necessarily that we disagree that they’re keeping it closed for longer… but the lack of a plan is frustrating.”
Meanwhile, Independent councillor Frank Roche said the lack of clarity is very tough on businesses, particularly those who cannot facilitate dining outdoors.
“They don’t know when they’re opening or what’s happening,” he said.
“I’m a businessman myself and I know what it’s like to be trying to pay insurance, pay rates, pay staff and keep everything in order — these people who can’t reopen, it must be devastating.”
This was echoed by Fine Gael councillor and local businessman Noel McCarthy, who owns the Carry Out off-licence on Emmet Street.
While Mr McCarthy said the atmosphere in Fermoy is “very good” and that “business is really picking up”, many are disappointed by the delay to the reopening plan.
“A lot of people have told me how disappointed they are about the decision to delay the reopening of indoor dining. People are very upset and they’re suffering. It’s heart-breaking,” he said.
“I do agree with the Government that there is no point in opening and closing again but I do think there needs to be clarity on an opening date.”