As economists at the Central Bank recently whispered the dreaded R word, they were only confirming what many in the city have known for some time now – hard times are underway once more. Even at this early stage, the impact can already be seen in the growing number of Dublin-based culinary folk who have taken the difficult decision to close. Newbies such as Spatched, whose arrival we heralded in these pages just a few short months ago, and Sam Pearson’s Vegan Sandwich Co have already shut up shop. Gone too is Circa, the award-winning neighbourhood spot in Terenure once described by our resident food critic as ‘a tasteful, sophisticated restaurant, hitting all the right notes’.
Even shops with decades of skin in the game are finding it hard to keep going. After twenty years in business the legendary Liston’s Food Store ceased trading at its Camden Street premises in mid-September. Further down the road on Wexford Street, Michelle Madden of renowned local green grocer Evergreen, tells us that small businesses are being squeezed from all angles. “I think it’s a combination of Covid and leftover fear and anxiety that’s been exacerbated by the energy and fuel crisis as a result of the war in Ukraine. You can see it in people and I think there’s definitely a financial insecurity that’s not really manifesting in the larger picture of statistics for government and revenue decisions. Then add in the energy squeeze, which puts more financial anxiety on people, all the multi-tasking and everything else that goes with running a small business, and you can see why people are walking away.”
An important factor for her business is the high population of office staff who haven’t returned to work in the area post-Covid. “We’re just not getting the footfall, so it’s a constant juggle. I’d say there’s four different businesses that have closed down around here in recent times, so you do definitely feel like a rabbit in the headlights. I think we have a huge tendency at the moment to bemoan the loss of places online when they announce their closure. It is a huge decision for anyone in business, but once that conclusion has been reached it is usually too late, because at that point they have already tried as much as they can. So if you like a shop, try to support it regularly.”
Madden understands why customers are choosing not to spend. “Nobody’s really dealt with the scars left behind mentally by lockdown just yet, and I think we’re all feeling the fallout. Even as a consumer, it’s chipping away at your emotional self all the time. Those of us who were open all through lockdown didn’t get any financial support from the government. We didn’t need it then, but we badly need it now.”
“And it’s not just about me,” Madden adds. “Everybody you talk to tells you about another small local business closing down, but it’s those little individual shops and personalities that make a community and an area special. And if we don’t mind them, we won’t have any of them left. If that continues, and we have to look to the large corporates to get what we need on a daily basis, then nowhere is going to have its own identity anymore. You could be in New York, London, or Dublin, but every street in the world will look and feel the same.”
In the midst of all these challenges, Madden is trusting that her customers can help her prevail. “During Covid loads of little people like us didn’t charge people for delivery. I maintained that if I kept my customers as best I could, they would keep me alive when it was all over, and I’m hoping that will happen. We’re here twenty-nine years now, and we’d like to see thirty.”
Evergreen, 34 Wexford Street, Dublin 2