Menswear retailer ‘driven demented’ by coronavirus restrictions

Independent retailer Patrick Bourke said he was ‘frustrated’ by the Government’s coronavirus guidelines.
Menswear retailer ‘driven demented’ by coronavirus restrictions

By Michelle Devane, PA

A menswear retailer has admitted opening his doors to funeral-goers despite Covid-19 restrictions, saying he does not want to add to his customers’ “misery”.

Patrick Bourke, the third-generation owner of Patrick Bourke Menswear, said he made the decision because he was being driven “demented” by the coronavirus restrictions and did not want to “let people down” who were in need.

Mr Bourke, who runs outlets in Ennis and Kilrush, Co Clare, said: “We hire out black suits for funerals and we sell black suits for funerals and that was our busiest trade for the last four months.

It is a bit like the shebeen, you knock at the door or phone us as you're coming and we'll let you in, no problem

“You can’t do that online so we were letting people in to do that.

“It is a bit like the shebeen, you knock at the door or phone us as you’re coming and we’ll let you in, no problem.

“I didn’t do it for the turnover, but so I wouldn’t let people down because funerals are already so difficult and stressful on people.

“Why would I add to their misery? Wouldn’t you go out to help your neighbour?”

Mr Bourke, who has been an independent retailer for 47 years and whose business was set up by his grandfather in 1928, said he was “frustrated” by the lack of common sense when it came to the restrictions.

He said turnover is down 80 per cent and that he is losing money by operating only online deliveries at present.

He added that if click and collect had been allowed it would have doubled his turnover from what he has made from online deliveries since January.

Mr Bourke said the stress of being forced to shut the doors of his store, and coping with mounting unsold stock, had taken its toll on his mental health.

“I had to take up severe physical exercise in the last couple of weeks to keep my mind right, to push my body and mind, to keep it right because it was driving me demented there for for a long while in March,” he said.

“I retained six of my staff, mainly for my own sanity. We’re losing money by being here, but we’re keeping some semblance of a daily routine.”

Phased reopening

A phased return of retail and the return of personal services such as hairdressers have been earmarked for the next easing of restrictions, which will begin on May 4th.

The Government is due to reveal in the next fortnight a detailed reopening plan for May, June and July.

Retail Excellence, the organisation representing more than 2,000 retailers across the country, has repeatedly called for the immediate return of click and collect to aid the struggling sector in advance of a full reopening.

Mr Bourke described the Government’s Covid payments as a “sop thrown to retail rather than a cure”.

“We’re staying afloat through reserves,” he said.

“Stock is a big problem because we order eight months in advance. We went out in February and ordered for Christmas thinking this would all be over but here we are almost at the end of April, still closed.

“It’s mind-boggling. If you’re the type of person that would let it get you down you’d throw in the towel completely. And you will see that happening.”

Sometimes you feel like: 'What's it all for?' When you've had such a loss of turnover, how do you climb back up again?

Boutique co-owner Elaine Murrihy said it was “very upsetting” looking at stock mounting up.

Ms Murrihy, who runs Ela Maria Boutique in Newcastle West, Co Limerick and Ennis, Co Clare, with her sister Maria Field, said turnover is down by almost 50 per cent.

“We used to freak out about being closed because of the snow, things like that, you’d really feel the hit from being closed for the couple of days,” Ms Murrihy said.

“But to think that we’ve been closed for so many months within a 12-month period is just unbelievable.

“Sometimes you feel like: ‘What’s it all for?’ When you’ve had such a loss of turnover, how do you climb back up again?,”

Sisters Elaine Murrihy (left) and Maria Field (right), co-owners of Ela Maria Boutique. Photo: Courtesy of Ela Maria Boutique/PA

She added that it was made more difficult by the Government not permitting click and collect.

“Retailers are disillusioned,” she said. “All the independent retailers have worked so hard to keep their businesses going and compete with the big businesses.

“We’re now banking on things opening for summer and people having places to go.”

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