IT is with a heavy heart that I read of yet another business in Macroom closing down. This is the second one in as many weeks that I am aware of.
As a local business owner myself, although not in the retail sector, it is so upsetting to me to think of the pain that this causes to the business person, the hours of soul searching, the final wrenching decision to call it a day.
My business to me is something I have worked myself to the bone for, that I have nurtured over the years, and felt huge pride in having built from scratch. I can only imagine how devastating it must be to choose to let that go and in fact I have some personal experience of this.
Many of us feel a great loyalty to the company or person we work for, and would be hard for anyone to say goodbye to that business in any capacity. I can guarantee that it is so much harder when that business is your own.
You only have to take a walk through town to notice all the empty units where businesses used to be. What’s causing it? There are many reasons for it. It is a perfect storm consisting of the rise of online shopping, spiralling costs for businesses and a consumer tendency to head for cities and larger retail centres. There are issues that need to be addressed from the top down by acknowledging the difficulties faced and trying to come up with innovative solutions.
Capping rents on retail units and help with rates could go some way to lightening the burden on businesses, but in my opinion there is something more fundamentally important we can do to help.
I feel that even taking the first step in acknowledging the worries and concerns of local business people could go some way to helping. By recognising it and by beginning a dialogue, we are communicating that we are here, that we see, that we want to find a solution. Sometimes that first step is the most important, even if it is a small one. Sometimes to be part of the solution, you simply have to recognise that there is a problem.
It seems to me that we have a somewhat ‘head in the sand’ approach to the current and future issues we face here in Macroom. The works on the N22 bypass have recently gone out to tender — our much needed traffic solution is coming. This solution, however, will bring more problems. There is no point in saying that we will cross that bridge when we come to it. I don’t want to sound like a harbinger of doom and gloom, but by then it will be too late. The time to act is now. It is like erecting scaffolding before you start works on a building. You prepare ahead, so that when the work is finished and the scaffolding comes down, the building will stand independently. What scaffolding can we erect now to prepare for when the bypass is built?
Let’s look at the positives, and there are many. We have a tidy, attractive town full of friendly people. We have some wonderful local businesses. Our town is surrounded by amazing walks and places to see. We are lucky to have lots of top quality food producers around that we celebrate with our annual food festival. We have a town filled with culture, art and crafts and the people who make and celebrate these things.
We also need to look at some of the negatives. Traffic is an issue. We have empty units and beautiful buildings sitting idle. Our theatre is currently, although hopefully not for long, out of action due to a fire. There is very little for our teenagers and young people to do outside of sports. I imagine that these are issues that face many small towns in Ireland, but they are issues that are not insurmountable. The solutions are there – we just need the will to enact them.
The will needs to come from us, the local community.
We are all guilty of shrugging our shoulders and saying that there is nothing we can do, that the responsibility lies with someone else, but there are, to my mind, two things that we can do as a local community.
We can be a part of the solution by making our voices heard. If you have an issue, make it known. If you have an idea, tell some people, run with it. Talk, discuss, lobby, campaign. Anyone can do it.
More importantly, if you appreciate local businesses and services, use them. You, the consumer, are invaluable to them.
My New Year’s resolution is to shop locally as much as possible. I hope you’ll consider joining me.
* Síle Ní Dhubhghaill is the Social Democrats candidate for Macroom and works with Direct Provision alongside the Macroom Action Group