The Christmas shopping season is upon us and consumers are encouraged to shop local, shop Irish. To do this, shoppers are urged to come into town. This Christmas, we’re putting the spotlight on three towns-Wexford town, Monaghan town and Newcastle West in Limerick.
What’s going on in Wexford?
The Christmas lights are on and the Wexford Winterland experience on the Quay runs until 23 December. Shoppers can plan their trips to avoid parking costs as free parking is available in all public car parks from 11am on Saturday 2, 9 and 16 December as well as all of Christmas week.
In another effort to keep consumers in town, shop local vouchers are available from County Wexford Chamber of Commerce offices with 93 outlets in Wexford town participating.
County Wexford Chamber President Brendan Crowley says:
“As well as individuals buying vouchers as gifts, it’s fantastic to see so many new companies choosing them as a means of rewarding and thanking their staff under the Small Benefit Exemption Scheme where employers can give up to €1,000 to workers by way of tax free vouchers a year. The vouchers are available in denominations of €10, €25 and €50. Keeping money in the local economy is so important.”
Business in Monaghan Town
Monaghan town is strategically located linking Dublin to the North-West and Belfast to the Midlands. It also links Dundalk and Newry to Sligo. One of the key initiatives to entice locals into town is the farmer’s market that takes place every Friday and hosts many crowd-pulling festivals throughout the year. The annual Monaghan Christmas Street Food Festival (tasteofmonaghan.com) will be set up in Church Square on Saturday 2 December (11a.m. - 5 p.m.). A craft fair, Designer Crafts at the Market House takes place on Saturday, 23 December.
The town don’t want parking to be a barrier to business. Therefore, there is free town parking from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. each day throughout December. Shop local vouchers are also available with €1.7 m spent on vouchers in Co Monaghan in 2022.
“The beauty of the town voucher is its universal appeal,” says Emily Treanor, co-chair of Monaghan’s Town Team (business organisation).
Shopping in Newcastle West
Newcastle West is a busy market town with two market days – Thursday and Saturday - and it has a busy greenway. Its Development Association is revamping, currently, with plans to reintroduce its shop local voucher scheme. The Christmas lights will be switched on, on 8 December, and parking incentives are in place. The first hour in public car parks is free between 9.30 a.m. – 5.30 p.m. as usual, with an additional two hours free on-street parking from 2.30 p.m. daily from 3 – 31 December.
Christmas shopping initiatives - do they work?
Kelly’s: The county council do a good job of encouraging people to shop local with free parking in the run up to Christmas. There is a Christmas Village in the town also which encourages families into town. These initiatives have definitely increased the footfall in previous years so we’re hoping for the same this year.
Dinkin’s: The Monaghan Town Team is always trying to promote ‘shop local, buy local’ initiatives. Businesses work with the county council on this. Free parking definitely encourages people to come into the town and the Monaghan Town voucher scheme is also a draw, keeping money in the local economy.
Cowper’s: Free parking incentives are positive for bringing people into town.
It really helps to encourage people to spend time here. Since the days of the Butter Market (pre-1880s), Newcastle West has long attracted people to come and shop in our market town. I find it is always lovely to be able to take time to browse around. You get a real feel of the soul of the town through the businesses that are there.
Shopping patterns – have they changed?
Kelly’s: Yes, I think there has been a change in people’s shopping habits to try support local since the pandemic. There is a lot more online shopping and research being done, along with price comparisons, though. It is impossible to predict when the busy days will be. Traditionally it was Thursday to Saturday but now it can be any day. We would be steadily busy from the start of December up to Christmas Eve.
Dinkin’s: People’s attitudes have definitely changed since Covid. There’s a bigger push towards shopping local and that benefits everybody. The move towards working from home has benefited us too as we’d have customers popping in during the week that we wouldn’t ordinarily see until the weekend. The level of support during Covid was great too. It’s a fantastic community here.
Cowper’s: Saturday would traditionally have been our busiest day of the week in the past but in recent years it could be any day. 23 December and Christmas Eve are always very busy, of course.
Challenges – what are they?
Kelly’s: Rates and rent would be top of the list on the Main Street. The increase of shopping outlets with ample parking on the outskirts of town also pose a challenge as they can deter people from travelling into town but we are very hopeful of a good Christmas this year. The full week run into Christmas should help business too. Our only concern would be that the ongoing storms and weather warnings could deter people from coming out.
Dinkin’s: Cross border shopping can be an issue in Monaghan but the initiatives mentioned above are in place to try overcome that. We have to battle against internet sales too, of course, but we want to reinforce how competitive the high street can be, price wise, and also the customer service that is second to none. It’s hard to beat the personal touch. Anything that keeps people from coming into the town affects businesses. If I’m not going into town because I’ve bought all my presents online then I’m not coming in for a loaf of bread or a cup of coffee.
Weather can be an issue too as power outages obviously mean that we can’t trade and it also puts people off coming in.
We are lucky, though, that Monaghan council and councillors have been farsighted and not allowed building outside of the town. Monaghan town has a thriving heart with our shopping centre in the town.
Cowpers: The main challenges for us would be online shopping. However, people are more aware since Covid that if you want to have a shop in your locality, it must be supported. Thankfully, we have that in our community.
Business in 2023 so far
Kelly’s: This year has been a good and positive trading year so far.
Dinkins: 2023 has been challenging for us because of the rise in costs - butter, sugar, eggs, fruit, gas and electricity - many of them have doubled.
Cowper’s: Business in 2023 has been good but we have had a tough year, family wise, as my aunt and the driving force of our business, Eileen O’ Donoghue, passed away in December 2022.
Unique service – how shops are fighting back
Kelly’s: We provide a friendly and informative service and we take deposits, allowing people to pay off their furniture items in instalments. We hold a good stock of items so we can get quick, free delivery to our customers. We also provide a free assembly service on furniture which, we find, sets us apart from some competitors.
Dinkins: We offer a click and collect system online since the pandemic hit and we have a crew of dedicated staff.
Cowper’s: We are quite active online but when it comes to jewellery that people want to invest in, they want to visit a bricks and mortar store.
To get the right piece, you really need to touch and see it in person. We take deposits throughout the year.
Kelly’s of Cornmarket Wexford Town
Paddy Kelly and his daughter, Mary Rose, run Kelly’s of Conrmarket in Wexford town. With 94 years in business under their belt, they are one of three long-established businesses in the area. They sell beds, furniture, wellingtons and general drapery.
“We have lots of farming customers, some third and fourth generation,” says Paddy.
“Originally, we would have been known for wellingtons, workwear and rainwear so we have kept that end of it as we diversified.”
Dinkin’s Home Bakery Monaghan Town
“Dinkin’s Home Bakery & Café has been in business for 51 years,” says Aprilanna Dinkin, daughter-in-law of founders, Anthony and Margaret. The award-winning bakery and café business operates in five towns and uses dairy products supplied by the nearby LacPatrick creamery.
“Farmers are regular customers,” Aprilanna says. “We support them and they support us. It’s so important to remember that it’s a circular economy.”
Cowper’s Jewellers Newcastle West, Co Limerick
Cowpers Jewellers on Bridge Street was established in the late 1800’s. “We can track it back as far as 1888,” Kevin O’Donoghue, the manager, says. “This year we celebrated our 135th anniversary.” Cowpers sell a wide range of gold and silver jewellery, watches and giftware.
“We try to stock Irish made jewellery and giftware as much as possible as it is very important to support our Irish producers,” he says.
“Our business is involved in the special occasions in people’s lives. Like our own business which has passed down from generation to generation, farms are too, so we would have a long-established relationship with farm families coming into the shop over the years,” says Kevin.
While parking may be a plus in the towns mentioned, it’s not always rosy elsewhere. Some business owners in Strokestown, Co Roscommon contacted Irish Country Living recently amid concerns about how proposed town enhancement plans will affect parking. Frank Hanly, secretary of the Town Team, believes that the plans will reduce the number of parking spaces available in the town which will not be good for business.
“Parking is commerce,” he says. “Keep the cars out and you keep the shoppers out.”
He believes that parking spaces will be cut by half amid plans to widen footpaths and put in greenery and seating areas.
Local business people have also complained of a lack of consultation during the planning process.
While Roscommon County Council did not answer Irish Country Living’s questions about the number of parking spaces available currently in Strokestown and how many there will be if the rejuvenation plans go ahead, they did issue this statement:
“The finalised scheme design has been developed following extensive public consultation by Roscommon County Council and the design team, in collaboration with residents and business in Strokestown’.
They also say that the scheme design has been ‘developed sensitively to ensure the history and heritage of the town is preserved and secured while also ensuring the necessary public realm infrastructure is in place to meet current and future needs of an expanding and vibrant town’.
In relation to parking the proposed project will include:
Alternations to existing road carriageway widths.
The provision of footpaths, along with shared pedestrian and cycle routes as well as pedestrian crossing facilities, disabled compliant bus stops and disabled parking spaces.
“Should planning permission be secured, it is Roscommon County Council’s intention to seek funding from the Department under the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund (RRDF) funding stream to deliver the project (with matched funding by Roscommon County Council). ‘Subject to approval this would lead to an estimated investment in excess of €5m in the town.”