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Coronavirus closures: ‘You have to look beyond your own business’

Martin McElhinney, general manager at McElhinneys department store in Ballybofey, County Donegal, tells Drapers why the business made the difficult decision to close the store, to limit the spread of coronavirus in the local community.

”Things are moving so fast. On Sunday morning we assessed the severity of the situation and in the interest of our colleagues and customers we decided that closing the shop was the right thing to do. We understand that some people need to stay open and it was a very difficult decision. It isn’t mandatory in Ireland [for non-essential stores to close] but it is coming down the line. It is very easy just to look at your own path, but sometimes you have to look beyond your own business.

”We’re closing for two weeks at the minute and we’re hoping that after that we can get back to normal, but it is more of a hope than an expectation. We’re still trading online and that has been quite strong today [Monday] thankfully, so that will mitigate some of the [lost revenue].

martin mcelhinney

martin mcelhinney

McElhinney’s was named Drapers’ Independent Department Store of the year in 2014

Trade was already tough enough, high streets are like ghost towns.

”It is a very worrying situation, we have 186 staff and it is causing them hardship financially, and that will be amplified throughout the country in the next few weeks [as more shops close], that will have a knock on effect on the economy. We’re hoping this short sharp shock [of social distancing across the country] will be enough but if it goes on for longer than two weeks it will have a major impact [longer term on the business].

”The government has made extra funds available to employees [by way of increased social welfare] and they are also relaxing the timing of VAT payments to help with cash flow for businesses. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes. This has caught everybody off guard.

“Trade was already tough enough, high streets are like ghost towns. We spoke to a lot of other retailers over the last week across the country and a lot are having trouble with staff not coming to work. If you have a vulnerable family member at home you’re going to think twice about going to work to fit children’s shoes all day, your family will come first.

”Everything has ground to a halt here in Ireland, but it is out of our control for now.”

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