Paul Matthews of The Man's Shop in Newbridge
Tills began ringing again this week across County Kildare as Phase Two of the plan to kickstart the local economy after Covid-19 began.
The shopping experience was very different, with restrictions on the number of people in a store, hygiene measures and browsing discouraged.
County Kildare Chamber urged people to shop locally to support businesses in their community.
In Newbridge, the long-established Farrell & Nephew bookshop was welcoming back loyal customers to its new-look premises.
Director Dermot Finnegan, who took over from his uncle Michael Farrell and his wife Kitty, has seen many changes in three decades of trade.Dermot said: “We were delighted to see customers come in the door today — in our 64th year of business.
“We have taken every possible precaution due to Covid-19 and customers and staff have been following all the guidelines.”
The bookstore installed a perspex screen at the checkout and implemented a one-way system to navigate through the store. Ample hand sanitiser is available on entry and exit.
People are urged to drop in school book-lists and they will be contacted when they’re ready.
Dermot also said he is hoping that a planned expansion to the store — a ground floor extension to the rear of the existing premises — will go ahead in the autumn.
He continued: “We would appreciate if customers be patient with these changes and of course every customer and their business is always welcome.
“I learned many years ago in the US that if you provide a good service, everything else will look after itself!”
Dermot also said that the bookstore is willing to accommodate vulnerable customers outside opening hours if required.
The operator also paid tribute to his staff for their hard work and loyalty during the Covid-19 restrictions.
Conor Diffney of Brownes Menswear, Naas, was wearing a mask on Monday along with his colleagues, and said that it does get uncomfortable in the warm weather. However, he is reporting a strong appetite from people in Naas to get back into shopping again.
He said: “We have not been doing online. There is a good buzz, the weather has helped. We will be looking at going online, but we plan to keep the shop open.”
The shop will open from 10.30am to six pm, with appointments available between 5pm to 6pm.
He said: “We still have the same amount of staff, two full-time and one part-time.”
Hand sanitisers for customers, entry and exit points, staying two metres apart, are all part of the new Brownes, but he hopes that the two metre rule won’t be long-term.
The staff wear cloth masks which are reusable, and are he says, “stifling and very uncomfortable”.
At Brownes, cash and card are being accepted, and customers can try on clothes, but due to the two metres rule, measurements for clothing can’t be provided.
Barker & Jones bookstore, which re-opened in Naas, is encouraging customers to only touch books they intend to buy.
A maximum number of people are allowed on the premises at any one time and hand sanitiser is available at the entrance.
The store reported a brisk trade in sales of Normal People by Sally Rooney — the book that inspired the runaway TV hit starring Kildare native Paul Mescal.
Store manager Kate Hayes said the bookstore’s regular customers were adjusting to the Covid-19 guidelines after it opened its doors after nearly three months shut.
She told the Leader: “People really missed going into their local bookstores during the lockdown.
“Customers must santise their hands at the entrance and we’re encouraging them to only touch books that they want to buy if possible.”
Kate hopes that if people are holidaying at home that they might buy their holiday reading in local bookstores rather than at airports.
She explained: “The important thing is that people shop local for whatever they want because we all have to support each other in our communities at this time.”
Kate said another popular title is Where the Crawdads Sing, a 2018 novel by Delia Owens which topped The New York Times Best Sellers list.
At Lips & Ps, Naas, two customers per time are being allowed into the store, and there are two staff available. There are gloves and masks available for customers who wish to avail of them.
Martina Swan said on Monday that business has been brisk, and people can use the changing room in the store. She said: “We have a loyal customer base who are coming in.”
Paul Matthews of the long-established The Man’s Shop, Newbridge, said that staff are now wearing gloves, and that masks and gloves are available for customers who wish to wear them.
He says that once clothes are handled, they have to be steamed and go into ‘quarantine’ for 72 hours.
Mr Matthews said on Monday that there has been a lot of interest since the store reopened. He added that it is great to see people in Newbridge again, browsing or buying.
He said: “We have a summer sale, Father’s Day is coming up. It is fantastic to see shops reopening, we hope to see it continue.”
Kim Kelleher, of Jingles, Naas, has had to put her renowned hat business on hold, due to there being no Ladies Days at the races —now held behind closed doors — and the majority of weddings being put on hold until next year. She is optimistic that Naas can return to the pre Covid-19 days and get its economy strong again.
With Jingles now selling clothes, particularly casual wear, she has been operating a service of dropping clothes to people around Naas, over the lockdown, and it has been very successful.
Ms Kelleher first closed her doors on March 14, and now only two customers are allowed into the premises at once, and screens, sanitisers and gloves are in place.
She says that there is a real desire for people to try on clothing before buying and they can do this in the store.
Ms Kelleher said: “I am gutted that I have lost my hat business, I have 2,000 head pieces in stock and no hope of selling them this year — no Punchestown, Curragh, Galway races, weddings. We need people to support the town.”
She hopes that her two part-time staff can return, and says personally that she does not understand why the social distancing can’t be reduced to one metre.
Cash is being accepted in the store and face masks are optional.
Ann Woods of Maybell Lady Plus on Newbridge’s Cutlery Road says that reopening is “absolutely scary”, especially as an inspection can just be random. The store is employing three staff currently, but pre-Covid, there were eight working in the shop.
Ms Woods says that, because of the restrictions on people travelling from other counties to Kildare, she fears that the store will lose a lot of business.
She said: “We had customers from all over the country. We do post-outs, but people want to try on. We will take this a day at a time.”
County Kildare Chamber has called for the government inject more cash into businesses to help them re-open and stay viable.
CEO Allan Shine told the Leader: “It’s all very to say retail is back but many businesses decided not to open yesterday because they’re being forced to weigh up their options.
“They may be afraid to turn the key on the door as there could be outstanding bills waiting for them or if staff come off the Covid payment, it could trigger redundancy payments if the work isn’t there for them.”
He added: “It’s no good opening up if sales aren’t being made and money isn’t coming in and that’s why the government needs to put more cash directly into businesses with targeted grants.”
Mr Shine said more pro-business measures were needed and the said the new government needed to hit the ground running in this area.
He added: “Covid-19 has been extremely challenging for the Kildare economy.”