Before it was even announced that pubs were to close their doors to customers The Thomas House decided it would be better to temporarily shut up shop. “We operate week to week like other small businesses so this is going to be an extraordinary test,” said co-owner Gareth Cummins.
However, as with many small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a serious amount of anxiety surrounding its future and the costs being incurred as the pub lies idle.
On the suggestion of loyal punters – of which The Thomas House has quite a few – Gareth sent up a GoFundMe in an attempt to help the bar when it comes time to reopen, and help keep staff employed in the interim.
Whtin a few houes the results were incredible. Donations of up to €100 from devoted fans of the bar poured in. Displaying an uplifting sentiment of solidarity and community spirit, after two days over €6,000 had been raised.
I asked Gareth a few questions about why he turned to crowdfunding, whether they were prepared for the pandemic and what should be done to help small businesses.
fft.: Was this a shock and what was your initial reaction?
Gareth Cummins: I think we saw the writing on the wall a week or so ago to be honest. We prepped for Patrick’s Day as normal but it was still active in the back of our mind that it might all kick off and we would be affected. Being a big nerd and reading comics, playing video games and watching crappy movies my entire life, I feel like I was half prepared for something like this anyway!
Why did you start the fundraiser specifically?
Every St Patrick’s day I do an AMA (ask me anything) on Reddit, I’ve done it for years now and it’s a tradition. I decided to keep up the tradition and do one this year even though we were closed. I got hundreds of requests for people to donate money to the bar so I said I’d create a Go Fund Me fundraiser and see what happened.
How has the Coronavirus specifically impacted on your business?
We are closed indefinitely. We closed before the government asked for us to shut down. It felt like the right thing to do.
We are a tiny independent bar so we had to pause all employment, we have no financial backing or investors to fund us. Everyone who works there is now on social welfare, myself included. When we are back up and running, everyone will be hired back.
What do you think the Government should do to help small businesses now?
All rents, bills and services need to be paused; not pushed back, paused. Smaller businesses won’t be able to pay the backlog of bills even if they do get back on their feet. At the moment it’s looking like every business will have a few months worth of bills to pay the day they reopen.
What do you think other businesses could or should be doing during this time?
I think any business that’s profitable past a certain point should be responsible for their staff. If it’s within their power to pay their staff even half of their weekly wage while the business is shut then they should do it. Anything to take pressure off the social welfare system and the government, allowing them more overhead room to maneuver through this period
The response to the GoFundMe has been excellent. Why do you think so?
We are a small pub, not part of a chain and not funded by some faceless corporate entity. We know our customers and they know us, we know their names and what they are going through. We have a personal relationship with all of them. The outpouring of support has been incredible to see and we feel extraordinarily loved right now.