Until the COVID 19 pandemic and subsequent national lockdown orders, family run bar The Glimmerman had become quite a successful businesses in the fast-moving Stoneybatter area in Dublin.
Now however, like every other bar across the country, its doors have been shut since mid March.
The crisis swept across the country quickly, giving people little time to realise the severity of COVID 19 on normal daily life, let alone businesses. The Glimmerman was no exception to this.
We spoke to Patrick Fortune, manager of the bar, about their response to the pandemic, their fears, and how they are working with their suppliers to reopen in the future.
For many bars in Ireland the closures that accompanied the virus were abrupt, giving staff little time to adequately prepare. “We were not at all prepared,” Patrick said. “I was very aware of the situation but never expected it to accelerate to the point it has got to.”
In the limbo timeframe between the closure of schools and the official announcement regarding pub closures, Patrick thought that their problems would lie with getting deliveries, resulting in him ordering more stock than usual and extra cleaning products. “I honestly didn’t expect the widespread closures,” he said. “I thought at worst we would have to limit numbers on the premises.”
The pub did, however, close a day early – the week before the closures they had been particularly busy and “That forced our hand on the Sunday, with the numbers in the pubs the nights previous, it was unfair to put the staff in that situation”.
Obviously full closure results in a 100% loss for the business and Patrick worries for staff with the uncertainty that the future holds. “We are all affected by this,” he said, “But having three family members working in the pub is sure to make your decision making a bit less capitalist, a bit more socialist”.
The bar has eight permanent staff and some have returned home to be with family. Patrick has also found it difficult to decide what to do with payments as it has constantly been in flux. He wants to keep all staff on the books and pay them with the help of Revenue wage subsidies.
“This had been a minefield to navigate – never knowing what’s the right thing to do,” he said. “At the beginning if we paid any wages for the two initial weeks there was a possibility we could not claim any relief.
“This situation has since changed almost on a daily basis, and we will have to revisit it in the next week. But it looks like all the lads will get 75% of their wages for the time being.”
Since the closure, this time has been used to focus on some building projects and changing around some of the internal parts of the pub, which has kept them busy up until recently.
“I think most publicans will be using the down time to decorate or remodel,” Patrick said. However, the potential to upskill staff is not an opportunity that they can take as it is not possible without staff being present in the bar.
In terms of the future of the bar Patrick presumes that the first few weeks, whenever that may be, will be hectic. Optimistically, he hopes that business will at least be the usual. “We have no plans to up our prices,” he said, “But I think the suppliers will increase theirs, so there could be a knock on there”.
The bar has a good relationship with all their suppliers, who Patrick has found to be very accommodating by offering to take back stock and refunding the bar.
The challenges most concerning Patrick are paying VAT and rates and general utility bills, which will be harder to endure the longer the cessation of business continues. “The longer it continues, I worry that I will have to borrow from the bank to keep the business afloat,” he explained, “And that comes at a big cost to the business especially if you’re heading into uncertainty. There’s a very real possibility that this will drive us into a massive recession. The last thing you want in that situation is an expensive monthly loan payment.”
When asked what the Government could do to offer suitable support to businesses to ensure that they reopen, Patrick cited a temporary freeze of VAT and rates which would allow them to have the cash available to pay staff and allow them to reopen.
He did, however, suggest that another helpful move would be funding staff wages as a VAT deductible business expense and saving them the tax and PRSI. “A reduction in the vat rate when we reopen would help us get back on our feet,” he said.
Many pubs affected by the closures want to be able to reopen their doors and look after their staff and the Glimmerman is certainly one of these. Anxiety surrounding the state of affairs, even when it is safe to reopen, the economy and how the Government plans to act as a buffer for businesses are on many businesses minds. Unfortunately, only time will tell.