There are few – if any – who have been unaffected by the pandemic. Lives have been taken and jobs lost.
People have been effectively trapped in their homes for weeks on end, weddings have been cancelled or curtailed, church services forced online and holidays at home and abroad abandoned, sometimes at an enormous cost. Far too many people have even been denied the chance to properly mourn their loved ones.
And then there are the businesses that have been forced to shut up shop as a direct result of the crisis. Many of the businesses that are now closed for good would have started the year full of hope for a bright future.
They range from the familiar high-street chains where many of us bought our clothes – such as Oasis, Topman and Monsoon – to long-standing local businesses – such as the Dice Bar in Dublin 1, or the Final Furlong restaurant in Kildare. Their departure from the streets of Ireland represents job losses for many, the winding up of a life’s work for others, and a changed streetscape for all of us.
But while the months past have been bleak for almost every business that has been forced to close or curtail its trading to a previously unimaginable degree, there are also embers of hope to be seen and people who are making the choice to view what has happened to them not as a calamity but as an opportunity to look at their world in a different and – hopefully – more positive way.
These are their stories.
Juggy’s Well, Glasthule, Dublin
Ann Fitzgerald-Brennan was co-owner of Juggy’s Well restaurant in Glasthule, Dublin, along with her mother, Nell.
When did you close? We closed on March 16th, like everyone else in the country. When we realised that lockdown was going to continue for more than a month, we began to panic and consider [permanent closure] in the first week of May.
Why did you close? We had a Zoom call with our accountant who said: “My honest opinion is that you would be bonkers for thinking of re-opening.” We had a fabulous clientele of customers, with a slightly older age profile. We looked at a takeaway option, but we did our sums and listened to the accountant’s advice. When the Vat [rate] went up last year, it nearly crippled us, and our last year was diabolical.
If it weren’t for Covid-19 would you still be open? We would still be at it. My mum is a very we-could-make-this-work person. The last recession was tough on us, and we were only really beginning to pick up again. We were still in recovery when Covid came around, and it made it impossible for us to reopen.
What was the impact on you, your staff and your customers? On making the decision, I cried for the day. For days afterward, I was going to bed crying and waking up crying. Our place was a little community; we even offered people lifts home. You could count the same 15 people that came into us every morning. It was so much more than a cafe to them, and to us, it was a huge part of our own family. We felt a huge sense of guilt about closing the doors. My mother didn’t want to meet anyone on the street.
What does the future hold for you? The premises will be let, if someone is brave enough to open a restaurant there. We won’t sell it. My sister has a clothing shop next door, and hopefully in time she will be able to give me a job. She can’t at the moment, but hopefully she may eventually. Other than that, I have to look for work elsewhere. I don’t know if I ever want to go back to catering. I like the idea of something simple.
The Runner Bean, Dublin 2
Mark O’Connell owned the Runner Bean vegetable shop and cafe on Dublin’s Nassau Street and for almost three decades he supplied people in the city centre with vegetables, sandwiches, coffee and more.
When did you close? We finally closed the doors in the middle of September.
Why did you close? There were just no people around. I lost at least 90 per cent of my trade almost overnight. I don’t think there are many businesses that could have survived that.
If it weren’t for Covid-19 would you still be open? Without a doubt. I am meeting people now who were regular customers of mine who have not been in the city centre since March and they miss us as we miss them. I had a relationship with my landlord going right back to the mid-1990s and he was pretty decent when the end came and called it quits when I closed the doors for the last time rather than pursuing me for money I didn’t have.
What was the impact on you, your staff and your customers? The biggest worry for me personally almost from the start of the crisis was how I could afford to pay the rent. I was liable for it all and not knowing how I could possibly pay it when I could barely afford to keep the electricity and the phone on was very stressful. I had one girl working for me full time and she actually went home to Romania for a holiday on March 10th. I remember saying to her: “I might not see you again,” but I was only joking. She hasn’t come back. I had a couple of part-time staff who I had to let go.
What does the future hold for you? I have moved my business online to therunnerbean.com but it is a slow process and more work needs to be done. For now I am doing fruit and vegetable deliveries in north Co Dublin as well as the north and south side of the city on specific days. I haven’t been taking a wage from the business as it is only washing its face now but I hope to grow it in the new year.
It is a small operation still but I really do get a sense that more people want to shop locally. If you shop with a big multinational retailer than the money just leaves our country. By shopping locally you get to support your community.
Dillon’s, Timoleague, Co Cork
Richard Milnes was head chef/proprietor of Dillon’s restaurant in Timoleague, which he ran with his partner Valeria Ventura.
When did you close? We closed our restaurant in March for the first lockdown. Initially assuming that it would be short-lived, we thought that the option to open again freely would be something we could wait for.
Why did you close? When social-distancing measures were introduced it became obvious that our business was no longer sustainable. Going from 24 covers a night down to 10 due to the restrictions gave us no option but to stay closed.
If it weren’t for Covid-19 would you still be open? Yes. We were developing our garden and had big plans to refurb the kitchen and restaurant. We lived upstairs from the restaurant and had our own kitchen garden so it was a great setup. Our plans now seem like a distant memory.
What was the impact on you, your staff and your customers? For me it was like someone had pulled the rug out from under me. My business had been my life and had been something I had always dreamed of and worked towards throughout my career. I went through some very difficult times following the realisation that I couldn’t continue. The fact that it was not my decision was even harder to take. My partner Valeria and I ran the business together so there was no impact on other staff members. We had hosted some very special gatherings for people over the years and become very close with our regular customers, so I guess for us it was like losing friends and maybe for them too.
What does the future hold for you? The future is difficult to comprehend at the moment and I think that we will only be feeling the true impact of all this in three to four years. Saying that, I’m positive. We have a food truck, Wild Hogs, and have started operating in the new Marina Market in Cork. I think we will be back with something bricks and mortar as soon as we can guarantee a few uninterrupted seasons of trading.
Dice Bar, Dublin 1
Kieran Finnerty was the owner of the Dice Bar on Benburb St in Dublin 7.
When did you close? Like all the pubs in Ireland, I had to close the business in the middle of March and at the time I thought we would open again in a matter of weeks. Nearly 10 months in, there is no sign of so-called wet pubs – a term I believe to be derogatory – opening their doors.
Why did you close? The lease on the Dice Bar was up on March 31st as it happens and there was no way I was going to sign another 10-year lease in the climate we were in so instead I signed a short-term extension for 12 months. By the middle of May I knew it was over.
If it weren’t for Covid-19 would you still be open? Yes. There is still a place for places like the Dice Bar. It is where memories were made, where people went to meet other people. Sometimes they might have only had a tenner but they could still come in, have a couple of pints, talk to people and see what happened next. Now what options do they have? They can buy five cans of cheap lager and sit at home on their own and get more depressed.
What was the impact on you, your staff and your customers? I have heard from a lot of customers that they are heartbroken that we are gone for good. Personally I am devastated. I helped to build the whole Smithfield area and it took a lot of effort on the part of many people to get it to where it is – or was. The authorities have done terminal damage to the pub trade, for whatever reason. There will be a lot of pubs that simply won’t survive.
What does the future hold for you? In 2022 I would like to re-open the Dice Bar, maybe in a different location.
The Final Furlong, Kilcullen, Co Kildare
Ruth O’Neill was owner The Final Furlong, a restaurant on the Main Street in Kilcullen.
When did you close? It was around 15th September, when the second lockdown came in. I had reopened in September – I’d undergone [spinal] surgery in June, which is why I was slow to reopen. I had to make sure that the girls were okay to get back to work. It was such a small premises, I was terrified [Covid-19] could get into the place.
Why did you close? I didn’t want a situation in which I wasn’t making money to stay open, and I didn’t want to get into debt and pay it back for years to come. My landlord was amazing and wasn’t asking for rent while we closed – it would have been like getting blood from a stone. The insurance premium was up for renewal and that became a determining factor. When the lease came up I wondered: can I sign on for another five years here, realistically? I simply couldn’t afford to open for three or four weeks, then close back down again.
If it weren’t for Covid-19 would you still be open? I’d still be there, definitely.
What was the impact on you, your staff and your customers? I’m still trying to process thing. Our lives were completely shattered. I had five girls on the payroll, which meant I was responsible for the income within five families. Luckily, one has gotten a job; the other has two young kids and is waiting to see what happens. When I made the announcement on social media, I cried reading all the responses. You don’t realise that you’re part of the fabric of the place. Kilcullen is a small village, with amazing people, but it was a hard decision that I had to make with a clear head, not my heart.
What does the future hold for you? Retrain, go back and try do something else. I have to rethink everything. You can’t be negative, I’ve got two kids so right now the big next step is keeping going. I’ve no problem changing things up – I’ve done childcare, I’ve worked in bars across England and Majorca – but I need to think cleverly about what I’m now physical capable of doing.
Hairspray branches, Cork and Dublin
Warren Logan ran the Hairspray chain of hair extension, accessory nd supplies shops in Dublin and Cork with his mother, Dolores MacKenzie. The company’s branch in Ballymount, Dublin 24, remains open.
When did you close? We closed on March 16th. Dublin was shutting down at that point, and our business is very close contact. We decided to close the retail outlets on Henry Street in Dublin and Patrick’s Street in Cork for good about four weeks into the lockdown. I went to my mother and asked what she thought, and initially she was a bit reluctant and wanted to keep the shops open. A few weeks later she had reached the same point as me.
Why did you close? There has been such a shift in how retail works in recent years, and it was exaggerated by Covid. People no longer need to leave their homes and they can find [a lot of what] they need online. The rents people are being asked to pay are also very high, and very hard to justify that when footfall is down so much.
If it weren’t for Covid-19 would you still be open? Definitely. I still had 18 months of the lease on Henry Street.
What was the impact on you, your staff and your customers? I have managed to hang on to a core group of good loyal staff, many of whom have moved to our operation in Ballymount. Others were happy to leave, as they did not want to work in retail anymore – some had older parents and did not want to put them at risk. For me personally it has allowed me to regroup and refocus the business.
What does the future hold for you? I really want to look at the positives. Retail has changed so much, and I was finding it very stressful. We are moving everything online. I have a background in film production and shoot all the videos of our products for our YouTube channel. We have a really mid-level product range and I think we can compete with anyone. I try and look at this, not as a blessing maybe, but as something which forced my hand to take the business in a good and ultimately better direction for me, my mother and our staff. The game hasn’t ended yet but so far the transition is going well.
Button & Spoon, Wexford
Nuala Grant co-owned Button & Spoon, a restaurant in Wexford town, with her husband Nigel.
When did you close? During the first lockdown, we took the business apart and looked at what we thought we were heading. When we went back into lockdown we weighed up the business, and made the tough decision to close in June.
Why did you close? We’d had a tough fourth quarter in 2019 and a rough start to the year. We had put a lot of work in to build the peripherals to the cafe in order to secure the business long-term. We did a lot of events catering and dessert tables for weddings. Covid ripped all of that out and turned us back into a start-up. No matter what way we tried to put it back together, we were under financial pressure.
If it weren’t for Covid-19 would you still be open? Beyond a shadow of a doubt. The hardest thing was that this year we had so many events booked and taken on some big corporate clients. Covid has stripped away the security that any small businesses might have had.
What was the impact on you, your staff and your customers? The business defined me. It was the worst experience of our lives. It’s a horrendous process. It was a family business, so everyone was so invested. It was all the more heart-wrenching because some of our employees had been with us for a very long time. From a customer perspective I was feeling so vulnerable, and the positive outpouring of support was the undoing of me in many ways. A lot of people asked if they could start GoFundMe accounts to help. We got personal letters from people. One woman told us that she had enjoyed every significant event, from birthday celebrations to her engagement, in our restaurant. We didn’t feel like such a failure then.
What does the future hold for you? My husband had built Back Of House, a till/ordering software system for hospitality and retail businesses, and he put a whole different spin on our restaurant business with it, and as a result other businesses came to us and told us they needed new cloud-based till systems. Over the last 18-24 months, he has been dabbling with that in the background, but since we closed, we have to turn Back Of House into a significant business.
Dublin Cookie Company, Dublin 8
Jenny Synott was co-owner of the Dublin Cookie Company in the Liberties, Dublin, along with Elaine Coholan.
When did you close? We are closing our doors for good after nearly five years on Thomas Street on December 23rd. Before we were here, we operated out of a closed kitchen in Smithfield.
Why did you close? We were planning for a year of growth and investment for 2020, but the universe had other plans. Once Covid hit, our two main customer bases (local office workers and tourists heading to the Guinness Storehouse) disappeared overnight. We closed for five weeks and managed to keep afloat between May and now. Our lease is up at the end of this month and when we had a good, hard look at the business and our work/life balance. Knowing that January and February – at the very least – will continue to be a struggle for our industry made the decision easier.
If it weren’t for Covid-19 would you still be open? If our year had gone as planned, we would still be in business.
What was the impact on you, your staff and your customers? Our biggest concern, when the pandemic hit was for our staff. They would be facing customers all day long and in the beginning the information about the spread of the virus was so uncertain that we decided to close the shop down until things settled. When we re-opened, our staff were still too worried about their health to come back so we hired new “cookie heroes” after installing all of the protective measures we could. Our customer base has shifted completely. We are meeting people from the neighbourhood who never knew we were here. It’s been one of the silver linings of this tough time: getting to know the community around us better.
What does the future hold for you? To be determined. I have learned so much running this business for the last seven years and am excited to see how that translates to the next chapter. I am hesitant to get involved in another food business. The industry has been decimated and it will be a long time before it’s back to being a profitable sector.