Today, Waterford.FYI talks to Jimmy Burrows, of the Fresh Food Courtyard, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford. The west-Waterford business owner considers himself one of the lucky ones to have remained open for business during restrictions.
Like many others, Jimmy has had to adapt to new ways of serving his customers. While business has declined in some areas, he has seen it grow in others. Throughout lockdown, Jimmy has found it hard to see the local community going through such tough times, but has embraced the change and is continuing to connect with his customers.
Read the interview
How have things changed for you since the lockdown in March?
Things have changed for butchers in general and we’ve had to close our cafe area. We’ve quickly had to adapt and put on a click & collect service, social distancing, hand sanitisers stations, etc. Business-wise, I think it’s helped butchers in general, with the catering side of the business such as hotels and restaurants, unfortunately, being closed, people have to cook a lot more at home. We’re seeing growth through these tough times.
How has the shutdown of so much impacted the community, your staff, and suppliers?
The thing that jumps out for me is the atmosphere in Dungarvan town itself, it was a town that was thriving and had very few empty units in it before the virus. It was actually heading very far in the right direction with all its shops, boutiques, restaurants, and a getting a reputation for being a good quality food town. Now, you walk through the square, every store is closed bar the food outlets. There is a dark cloud over the town. If people are coming to town, they are doing their business and going home again. We are doing a click and collect service where people can phone in to the store ahead.
How have your staff been doing?
Unfortunately, we’ve had to temporarily let go two girls who were working on the cafe side of it. All going well, we’ll have them back. You have to protect your staff, so I find you have to be a bit stronger in how you talk to customers. It’s a natural reaction for Irish people to go forward and come into people’s faces, you know? To keep two metres between someone is challenging. People have been brilliant though and the staff have been brilliant. The whole service end of it is slow but people are getting used to it.
How can customers and communities support local business now?
I hear people in the shop are saying that we need to support small businesses. People are coming out and prioritising the smaller shops and we’re going to need that because we don’t survive unless we have footfall. It’s as simple as that.
Do you have an online shop and has social media been of help to your business?
I’m relatively a new business in Dungarvan, we just turned into year three and are in the middle of building a website. There are quick fixes there but it will take up to 36 weeks to get a proper website built-in.
Online for me, it’s been a lot of social media; we push through Facebook and the local papers and WLR. I’m not set up online yet but we will be there in the future.
What safety protocols have you in place in the shop?
To be fair, for me to give two metres apart in my seating area, it will reduce my seating area by 60%. I wouldn’t be able to give two metres between each table apart inside but I do have seats outside. That’s going to have a knock-on effect on customers, you know? I’ll be slow to open that part of the shop to keep staff and customers safe.
Is there enough information out there from the government?
To be honest, I think the government has been excellent. They really stepped up when needed. The information came through quite quickly. For us, we closed our seating area a week before we should have and acted fairly quickly. I got an email from my EHO here in Dungarvan who was excellent and was a huge support in the early days. It’s like anything, we all have to follow the guidelines, do what government says and in time, we will get through it.
Have you availed of financial supports?
No. I haven’t because with the balance of my business, we picked it up on one side. We’re kind of a unique model – butchers, cafe & delicatessen all under one roof.
Can the government do anything else to make it easier?
Look at rents and rates going forward for any small business to survive, there’s no doubt about that. We’re able to pay our bills and our staff but the government has money in the pot and it’s how they’re going to support the businesses that need it is my opinion. There are tough days ahead for publicans, restaurants and other businesses. Small boutiques for example might only allow one person in or on a wet day, people won’t queue. I wouldn’t like to be around the top table at the minute to sort this one!
What’s been the hardest part of all this for you
Getting up every morning to open your store and you don’t know will you have X amount of people or will it be quiet or busy. The atmosphere is the whole thing for me, to walk around town to see so many shops closed. I feel so sorry for businesses like that…
Go-to activity to relax?
I used to enjoy my bit of spinning and I do a bit of cycling as well. I live in Portlaw and I like to do a bit of walking in the evening.
If you had one message for your customers, what would it be?
Thanks to everybody, they’ve been tremendous throughout this whole thing. From day one, our customers have been very good to us and without our customers, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today. We owe a lot to them.