One of my regular haunts is the French Quarter café/restaurant in the Tipperary Excel in Tipperary Town.
When I saw their notice on Facebook that they were closing to sit down patrons as a result of Level 3 restrictions, I wanted to find out how this was going to affect them and indeed Tipperary Town in general.
As a county councillor as well as proprietor of the French Quarter, Annemarie Ryan (Shiner) was more than happy to speak with me about their current situation and of their future hopes and concerns.
With her husband, French native, Loic L’Herrou, they took over the French Quarter in March 2007 and apart from a short break at Christmas they were never closed until the pandemic struck in March of this year.
When they re-opened in July their cash reserves had been completely wiped out.
“We had to take from our personal savings in order to pay for PPE equipment, stock and for safety changes to the layout of the premises which involved each table in separate units. We had to spend a lot of money to affect these changes and we would not have been able to open without the re-start and wage subsidy schemes and the support of our landlord at the Excel.
"Our capacity went from 44 to 26 and our turnover dropped by more than 50%. We are spending extra money on ensuring that the tables and chairs are cleaned rigorously and everything is costing more. A box of gloves for example went from €3.50 to €11.00 per box.”
While operating a take away service currently Annemarie doesn’t see this continuing as without outdoor seating she feels that it is not financially viable to continue this service and expects to be fully closed within days.
When I put it to her if they could bounce back after the restrictions were lifted she sounded a pessimistic note: “I fear that we are facing a long and dark winter for Tipperary Town. “Some outlets will be able to ride out the storm but without a suite of supports many will be forced to stay closed.
“I would ask people to support the businesses in the town and to shop local and if you are shopping online to do so with local outlets. Whatever hope we have it is in shopping local and not with national outlets.”
With personal responsibility comes collective responsibility and Annemarie is hoping that this will be the case in Tipperary Town and that people will respond to the call to shop in town.
While obviously despondent at the impact of the restrictions on their business and on Tipperary Town in general, nevertheless she is optimistic about the work of the Task Force of which she is a member.
“We are still working away and a new office for the Task Force has been opened on Bridge Street. We are all a bit worried and anxious currently but that doesn’t mean that the work has stopped. Some of the surveys being conducted have paused but they will re-commence once restrictions are lifted and footfall improves and we can engage with the public again”.
Wearing her March4Tipp hat she says that they are operating away and actively looking at issues of concern to the town. The main issue of concern to them presently is the pending roadworks for Main Street/Fr Matthew Street which are proposed to commence in 2021.
“As it currently stands we are opposed to this proposal. We feel that the traffic issues, which are well documented, should be resolved firstly and to not do so would be like ‘putting the cart before the horse’.
In the current Covid environment with businesses struggling it would be not be good for business or for the town.”
It was on the strength of the March4Tipp campaign that Annemarie was elected to the county council so I asked her how she was finding her role as a public representative.
“Challenging, really interesting and enjoyable. I was a bit naive in going for election but I am glad I was as I might not have run otherwise. There is a huge amount of paperwork to do in the role and I am learning all the time but I am enjoying the challenges involved in representing the interests of the people of the area.
“I believe it is important to challenge the monopoly of the main political parties around the control of the positions of Cathaoirleach and Leas Cathaoirleach and to exercise that right even when the numbers are not in my favour,” she said.
Annemarie was anxious to mention that the restrictions have also impacted on her husband and some of her staff who are not natives of Ireland and can not therefore visit relatives overseas or vice versa.
“My husband Loic has not been home to see his mother in France for the last year and a half and she is 74 years of age and lives on her own. It is very difficult for her as it is for others in the same position.
“Thankfully technology has allowed Loic to communicate with his mother and for our children, Betty (aged 11) and Leon (aged 9) to be able to speak to their grandmother. These are the challenges that many people face and we must also remember them in this pandemic.”