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Locals step up to the plate

Wednesday, 22nd July, 2020 4:43pm

“Smaller and indigenous business are the heartbeat of this city and we should be proud of how businesses and locals have come together during this pandemic.”

That’s the opinion of Cork Business Association (CBA) President Eoin O’Sullivan as he spoke candidly to the Cork Independent about the Covid-19 fallout, how businesses responded and how St Patrick Street can recover after several stores shut their doors permanently.

Mr O’Sullivan was impressed with how Cork people “stepped up the plate” and supported local businesses during the pandemic and continue to support them.

“This was a really uplifting thing for me to see, and there’s no doubt about it, locals love supporting local businesses.”

He also praised businesses and traders for how they adapted to the restrictions. Many businesses had to change their business model due to the pandemic, he added.

He admitted that it wasn’t the best time for businesses when he took over the chain of office in late February, as they were beginning to feel the negative effects of the virus, but added that the CBA acted as quick as it could and set up a crisis support centre.

He said: “What I‘ve witnessed as CBA president is that we’ve such a great business community in Cork. I probably didn’t appreciate it as much as I do now.

“The business community really does work together. Take for example what has been done with Princes Street where the businesses came together and have made the city a really vibrant place to be in. People are being drawn into the city because of it and it is such a positive initiative.”

Just a stone’s throw away from Princes Street is Cork’s famous Pana which has lost several big names in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic including Debenhams, Monsoon, Clarks, and Hairspray. When asked about looking further afield from the English high street stores to other European, American and Asian brands and companies, Mr O’Sullivan said that it was something that could be looked at and welcomed the idea. But he added that the historic street could offer so much more than shops.

He explained: “I think pre-Covid-19, the retail sector was under massive pressure because of online shopping which we are all guilty of and the city centre was under pressure - that was no major secret. When businesses had to then close their doors because of Covid-19 that was the final nail in the coffin for some. One thing to take into consideration too is the scale of many of these stores who had multiple units across the world. If one side gets hit, it can bring them all down. 

“That’s where you can see how family run and indigenous businesses were able to cope better because they could manage their overheads and costs better but obviously they need support too at this time.”

“It’s inevitable that we might see more closures and I don’t think there will be new tenants in these vacant premises until there’s a clearer picture because no one is going to make a huge investment at the moment. For example, the Roche family probably won’t repurpose the Debenhams building until they know exactly the landscape,” he added.

While he admitted that chain stores are a big draw for people, he said he would like to see more eateries, more family run business and more indigenous companies on St Patrick Street. He added that high streets across the globe were feeling the effects of Covid-19.

Outside of his CBA role, Mr OSullivan is co-Director of M&P O’Sullivan which this week confirmed that it had acquired Brennan’s Caterworld assets and trading names, which went into liquidation last month. 

The undisclosed deal, which merges the trade of two of Cork’s oldest companies, will see the catering supplies business added to M&P’s wholesale portfolio, which also includes Homestead, White Hat and Red Abbey, bringing their product range to over 15,000 lines.

He said the deal was a tough decision to make given the economic fallout of Covid-19 but that it was the right fit for the company adding that he and his colleagues were “cautiously optimistic” about the future.

“Covid-19 has put new pressures on the food and hospitality industries but there is light at the end of the tunnel,” the CBA President concluded.

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