Move to Level 3 ‘devastating’ for pub trade, say vintners

But retailers express relief at decision not to move to Level 5 measures

A shop on Dublin’s Henry street closing down due to liquidation in September. Photograph: Alan Betson/ The Irish Times

A shop on Dublin’s Henry street closing down due to liquidation in September. Photograph: Alan Betson/ The Irish Times

 

The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) has claimed Level 3 restrictions will see 50,000 jobs lost in the pub sector.

The body, which represents pubs outside Dublin, said this was “another devastating development” for many pubs which had just reopened two weeks ago after closing in March.

The VFI said plans to implement a cap of 15 customers was not viable and it called on the Government to announce extra support for the pub trade.

The Restaurants Association of Ireland said the move would cause an economic meltdown for the hospitality sector with 180,000 jobs being lost.

It is “utterly disproportionate, devastating for workers and business owners, plus lacking in evidence based rationale,” said chief executive Adrian Cummins. He called for an emergency support package for the sector.

Earlier, retailers and people working in the sector expressed relief at news that the Government had rejected the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) recommendation to move the country to Level 5 status.

Retail Excellence said the decision would ensure that almost 300,000 people would keep their jobs in the run up to Christmas.

However the umbrella group said that the expected move to Level 3 with extra restrictions across the State would have a profound impact on cafes and restaurants as well as hitting consumer sentiment and footfall hard “making the run up to Christmas even more difficult for hard pressed retailers”.

The managing director of Retail Excellence Duncan Graham said it was “important that the health of our economy was taken into consideration”.

He pointed out that “moving to Level 5 restrictions with only 11 weeks left until Christmas would have been devastating to the industry. This is the most important period of the year for retailers for turnover and profit”.

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As it stands many retailers are trading between 40 per cent to 70 per cent below last year’s turnover and further restrictions would be “the final nail in the coffin for many”, he said.

Mr Graham added that over 90 high profile stores in Ireland had already closed this year including chains like Debenhams, Mothercare, Oasis, and Inglot and believed the situation was likely to get worse early next year.

“Further restrictions would drive a huge acceleration in online shopping, of which over 70 per cent goes to retailers outside of Ireland. Retailers need Government support with legacy debts dating back to March and April,” he said, noting 67 per cent of retailers surveyed recently said they were in rent arrears.

Earlier, Mr Graham said accepting the NPHET recommendation to move to Level 5 restrictions would be “a devastating blow” to retailers.

He said retail should be viewed as an “essential” sector in the run-up to Christmas and also warned that enforced closures would lead to “a bottle neck which will lead to a shopping frenzy in December which could lead to further problems”.

Queues would only be exacerbated, he argued, if several weeks of retail in the run-up to Christmas were lost.

“What we could see is more panic buying rather than the smooth run-up to Christmas which we have been hoping for,” he told The Irish Times.

Mr Graham said retailers had been “compliant across the board since the start of this crisis and there is no evidence of clusters of Covid-19 originating in shops”.

“People are going to want to buy gifts and because they won’t be spending on Christmas parties, we would anticipate a lot of gift buying so people can at least leave something under the trees of their loved ones if they can’t visit them or celebrate with them in the traditional way,” he said.

However he said consumers’ plans could be left in disarray with fresh enforced closures.

“I would like to see all retail classified as essential or a more nuanced level of restrictions that would at least see shops remain open even if movements have to be restricted and people are not allowed to visit each other in their homes,” he said.

‘Christmas lost’

He expressed fears that any lockdown could easily be extended. When the first lockdown was announced we were told it would be for three weeks and it lasted 12. Christmas was 11 weeks away now and if the same thing happened then Christmas would be entirely lost, he said.

Jean McCabe owns clothes boutiques in Galway and Ennis and said that while she had spent much of the last six months ramping up her online presence “to mitigate the reduction in footfall at Christmas” another enforced closure would be “catastrophic for shops who do not have an online channel”.

She said that she had been hoping for “a steady flow of shoppers through the doors over October, November and December rather than that sharp increase in the last three weeks before Christmas but if the retail sector is closed then that can’t happen”.

She said were the Government to accept the NPHET recommendation for a move to Level 5 for four weeks it would leave shops struggling to manage capacity over Christmas. “There have been no cases tied to retail and for the sake of saving that bit of the economy I think it is a calculated risk to keep shops open.”

Retail Ireland, the Ibec group that represents the retail sector, said any move to close “significant swathes of retail as part of new Covid restrictions would have a devastating impact on thousands of businesses and jobs” in the run up to the key Christmas trading period.

It warned that non-grocery trade “would move almost exclusively online with the majority of spending leaving the country.”

The group’s director Arnold Dillon said Sunday night’s news that a widespread retail lockdown was under review “is a major shock. The economic and social costs would be enormous, thousands of businesses and jobs would be at risk. This must be avoided”.

He said the threat Covid-19 would have to be managed “through targeted restrictions, while also sustaining economic activity and jobs. The retail sector has clearly demonstrated that this can be done. A rigorous risk assessment, which incorporates economic and social considerations, must be carried out before any new restrictions are introduced.”