Perspex screens, hand sanitisers and information signs are all part of the new post-Lockdown shopping experience in West Cork, as local companies begin their cautious return to trading
‘IT was here before. We all have to be careful,’ said Michael Thornhill, whose grandfather, Christopher, died of Spanish Flu in Skibbereen in 1918.
‘He was just 40 years old and he died within seven days,’ Michael said when talking about changes businesses have made in preparation for the opening of their stores.
‘This will be the new norm for some time to come,’ said Michael, who has put up shields to protect his customers and the staff.
They have also introduced a one-way system for shoppers; hand sanitisers at both the front and back door to the shop; and signs advising people to keep a social distance of 2m. Michael said Monday, their first day back, was ‘very, very busy’ and that they all but sold out of electric hair grooming sets for men. ‘I don’t want to be sexist,’ he added, ‘so maybe you should say that they can be used by woman too.’ They were the big seller on the day and he hastily adds that they will be back in stock by the weekend.
For the last eight weeks, Michael said Thornhill Electrical was available for emergency situations – like when fridges, freezers and cookers went on the blink – and they delivered out to customers, but from here on in it will be steady as she goes.
In Clonakilty, Sorcha Sheehy of Tom Sheehy’s said: ‘Business is busy.’
She said a lot of work went into getting the shop in Clonakilty ready for customers and staff. ‘There was a good bit of work too in terms of screens and signage,’ she said.
‘We also put in a one-way system and restricted access to some areas, such as the furniture section. And we had to make sure we had enough hand sanitisers.
‘As part of the reopening, we are limiting the number of people that can go into the shop at one time – so there was some logistics involved in that.’
Tom Sheehy’s is open to the public from 10am until 4.30pm but behind the scenes people are working the traditional 9am until 6pm.
‘The extra time,’ said Sorcha, ‘gives us a chance to set up and check our orders because we are running a call and collect service.
‘We’ve been doing that for the last month, selling through our social media sites and over the phone. What’s encouraging is that people are shopping locally online.
‘That is a change of approach. We photograph the stock, post it online, and people order it. And things like garden furniture is flying out the door.
‘We plan to review the situation as it unfolds and possibly expand our opening hours in Clonakilty. We are hoping to open our store in Bandon in the next few weeks.
Sorcha said: ‘We are basically doing what we are told, but we are optimistic for the future.’
Abele Aigars of The Fish Market in Bantry admits that business is ‘weak’, but he puts that down to the fact that 60% of his business is usually with hotels and restaurants.
‘Everyone is struggling, said Abele, ‘but we take comfort from the fact that we are no better or worse than anyone else.
‘We will continue to run the business and, as far as we are concerned, as long as we can break even, it is a plus.’
The owner of The Fish Market said the shop door has been open since mid-April because it is part of the food chain and is therefore deemed essential.
He said he did not see a marked difference following the Monday re-opening of other shops, but added: ‘It is early days yet. I expect the weekend will be busier. If the market is open on Friday, it will bring people to town.’
Abele said he is philosophical about the situation. He said: ‘This too shall pass. Everything passes. We need to stay as positive as we can.’
Kate Davis of Horgan’s Pharmacy in Bandon told The Southern Star: ‘We have been open all the time because we are an essential service. We haven’t noticed too much of a change since other businesses reopened on Monday.
‘We are still doing a lot of deliveries to people who are cocooning.
‘The big change since lockdown is that people are definitely shopping locally, and that is a great plus for us, and for all of the other businesses in town.’