Local shopkeers were to the fore in the Dáil last week when TDs and Senators were warned that shops that are the cornerstone of the community are underthreat.
The Convenience Store and Newsagents Association outlined a strategy for sustainability which will ensure Ireland’s small shops will continue to be the corner-stone that sustains the viability of small rural communities.
The CSNA delegation included its CEO, Vincent Jennings; Noel Kelly, national president CSNA (Monasterevin) and Ann Martin, national vice-president CSNA (Mountrath).
Like their 1,500 colleagues in the CSNA countrywide both Noel Kelly and Ann Martin are independent family retailers who sell the local papers every week and are staunch supporters of their regional newspapers.
Similar to many other small businesses on Main Street and in town centres these retailers provide a vital, personal and hands-on service within their communities and are constantly competing with larger multi-nationals.
Vincent Jennings told the Committee on Rural Affairs that ‘‘small shops are the cornerstone of rural sustainability’’ but he warned that they face ‘‘a unique basket of challenges from Brexit, to crime, absentee banks, insurance costs, increased regulation and new alcohol regulations’’.
Mr Jennings warned ‘‘structural separation could yet be the straw that breaks the back of struggling retailers”.
He said this would be unfortunate for social as well as economic reasons, noting;
‘’Our shops are meeting places, where local news is exchanged, neighbours greet each other and use notice boards to access services. The independent retailer brings with them a sense of difference to an area. They are all unique, often quirky, giving a neighbourhood vibrancy and colour.
“Local shops are frequently the place where many young people get their first taste of employment whilst we also provide work to many women who would consider themselves as primarily homemakers but avail of flexible working hours,’’ he said.
Mr Jennings commended the government’s commitment to a rural charter.
‘‘The Government and all relevant stakeholders must commit to improving broadband and respond to the scandalous closure of bank branches throughout the country,” he said.
The rising cost of insurance is a significant threat to the viability of our businesses whilst rural crimes are also “serious threats’’.
Mr Jennings urged the committee to ‘‘seek fundamental reforms in data protection to allow rural landowners and businesses to protect themselves through CCTV and the sharing of images’’.
Brexit, he warned, ‘‘means the situation in counties adjacent to Northern Ireland is at its most precarious in years. The Taoiseach and Jobs minister should devise a public information campaign to set out the true cost to our fragile economy of cross border shopping’’.
The CSNA President, Mr Noel Kelly also called for a ‘‘rural health check on legislation that may affect countryside SMEs and for an amendment to existing Competition Law to provide for representative bodies to engage with suppliers to discuss pricing”.
”Whilst members are still fragile and wounded the CSNA will always approach problems constructively.
“We are not serial complainants and as entrepreneurs, we do not expect to be depend on the State, but reform is needed to protect the sustainability of our rural retail offering,” he said.