Portlaoise traders say they are ready to start the phased reopening of businesses after nearly three months of enforced closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Phase II of the relaxing of Government restrictions will see the small shops such as clothes shops, jewellers, gift shops and photography shops, next Monday June 8 all over the county and Ireland.
An announcement is expected from the Government this Friday afternoon.
Mark Healy is Chairman of Downtown Portlaoise, and owner of The Pantry restaurant.
“We will all be taking as many precautions as we can to make sure customers feel comfortable and safer. It is very important that people do support local businesses,” he said.
He said that it has been reported that 80% of money being spent by consumers is going out of the country for online purchases.
“It is very important, particularly for local jobs, that we spend as much as we can locally. Every euro is a vote for what kind of community we want to live in, one with local artisan shops and bars.
“The upside is you know the people you are buying from, it is lovely to be welcomed by name when you walk in the door, I don't think any multinational can ever compare with that,” he said.
The Downtown Portlaoise retail group had their first meeting since the start of the pandemic with Laois County Council and other agencies last week. They discussed ways to help businesses recover and offer a safe environment for their customers and staff. The outdoor meeting was held at the front of county hall.
Mr Healy was optimistic following the meeting.
“There is uncertainty but it is as positive as it can be. The council is very eager and willing to help and are open to ideas from traders. It is more important to get a good plan now than a quick plan,” he said.
He believes that there may be a silver lining to the new norm of working remotely from home.
“One of the biggest impacts is that more people are working from home. Usually over 11,000 people leave Laois for work daily. Even if half of them stay, that's a lot more potential for business around the town.
“It's not going to be easy, but we have always pulled together, with Laois Chamber, Tidy Towns, Laois Taste, Laois Tourism, and now we have an added focus,” he said.
Downtown Portlaoise has an ongoing survey for businesses to give their input and concerns.
The survey covers topics such as health and safety, PPE, parking, promotion and business outlook.
“We are using the survey's feedback as a continued guide as we move through the phases, we can filter it to see responses from each group such as restaurants, and we welcome the input from as many businesses as possible, even in the rest of Laois. We can pass them on to the council,” the chairman said.
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Restaurants and cafés are due to reopen on June 29 .