‘Don’t kill Christ­mas’ — re­tail­ers’ plea to Gov­ern­ment ahead of new re­stric­tions

Re­port by econ­o­mist Jim Power warns 45,000 re­tail jobs will be lost per­ma­nently un­der lev­els 4 and 5 while bil­lions of euro could be lost from Ir­ish shops

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE - Sa­man­tha Mc­caugh­ren

RE­TAIL­ERS have writ­ten to Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tá­naiste Leo Varad­kar strongly urg­ing them to keep non-es­sen­tial shops open in the run up to Christ­mas.

Clos­ing shops over the next num­ber of weeks would per­ma­nently shut down an un­prece­dented num­ber of re­tail­ers, rep­re­sen­ta­tive body Re­tail Ex­cel­lence wrote. Con­cerns deep­ened in re­cent days as rec­om­men­da­tions for fur­ther re­stric­tions na­tion­ally were made to Gov­ern­ment amid ris­ing cases of Covid-19.

Dun­can Gra­ham, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Re­tail Ex­cel­lence called for all re­tail to be classed as es­sen­tial at this time of the year and urged the Gov­ern­ment not to kill off Christ­mas. “We can’t sim­ply can­cel Christ­mas,” he said.

A re­port be­ing pre­pared for the or­gan­i­sa­tion by econ­o­mist Jim Power fore­casts that tens of thou­sands of re­tail jobs would go if shops such as fash­ion, jewellery, gift­ware and book stores are forced to close dur­ing the busiest times of the year.

Un­der level 4 and 5 re­stric­tions only es­sen­tial shops such as su­per­mar­kets and phar­ma­cies are al­lowed to re­main open.

Power told the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent that around €27bn is spent on non-gro­cery re­tail and that 70pc of turnover and prof­its are gen­er­ated over five months in the run up to Christ­mas and Jan­uary sales.

Dur­ing the first lock­down, over 90,000 re­tail work­ers were on the Pan­demic Un­em­ploy­ment Pay­ment (PUP). That was down to 30,500 last week. “If non-es­sen­tial re­tail is forced to close, you are talk­ing about at least an­other 60,000 work­ers be­ing dis­placed. So a mas­sive job shock. I would sus­pect that at least half of those would be gone per­ma­nently.

“Non-es­sen­tial re­tail is strug­gling quite badly and hasn’t quite re­cov­ered since re-open­ing. Mas­sive, mas­sive pain has been felt.”

He said 10,000 tem­po­rary part-time staff — mainly younger work­ers — who would be taken on for Christ­mas would also be hit.

Power pre­dicted that Christ­mas shop­ping would be driven online. Some 70pc of online shop­ping goes to sites out­side Ire­land, so shops here could miss out on bil­lions of euro which would nor­mally be spent in shops in towns and cities across the coun­try.

The letter from Re­tail Ex­cel­lence said: “The im­pact upon busi­ness own­ers, re­tail staff and the wider econ­omy will be at a level pre­vi­ously unimag­in­able.

“The im­por­tance of Quar­ter 4 and Christ­mas is of a level few other in­dus­tries face.

“A suc­cess­ful Christ­mas al­lows re­tail­ers to sur­vive and to re­open in Jan­uary. Re­tail ex­ists against an ever-chal­leng­ing back­drop of clo­sures ev­ery Jan­uary should Christ­mas not al­low them to deliver suf­fi­cient prof­its to sus­tain the first half of the fol­low­ing year.” The letter also said morale was ex­tremely low.

“We ask you to sup­port re­tail through Christ­mas and not to kill the in­dus­try as an un­in­tended con­se­quence of the fight against Covid.

“We can­not sur­vive 2020 with­out gov­ern­ment help­ing us through the pe­riod of the year that ei­ther helps us sur­vive or to shut our doors, never to re­open.”

Gra­ham said clos­ing shops for six weeks would mean re­tail would be closed un­til the end of Novem­ber. “There would be a huge surge in online and we urge those who do go online to shop lo­cal.”

He said that re­tail­ers have abided by guide­lines from Gov­ern­ment, en­sur­ing that the Covid num­bers linked to re­tail have been min­i­mal.

Gra­ham also ex­pressed con­cern about the dif­fer­ence be­tween re­stric­tions in the Bor­der coun­ties, some of which were put on level 4 last week, and North­ern Ire­land where non es­sen­tial stores re­main open.

Shop­pers throng­ing Dublin’s Grafton Street in the days run­ning up to Christ­mas in pre-covid times — a pe­riod that gen­er­ates 70pc of prof­its for re­tail­ers out­side the gro­cery sec­tor

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