ANOTHER small, family-run corner shop closed recently in the centre of the city and while it didn’t make headlines, many concerned people feel its demise is another nail in the retail life of the city.
For the last seven and a half years, Ellen Murphy provided the people living around James’s Green with a place to shop, somewhere to talk and a centre for the community. Finally, she had to close the front door because the margins were just too tight and because the bank debt was crippling her.
Since then, she has been inundated with calls, messages of support and even Mass cards but it is all too late for someone who always has a smile on her face and who brightened up the lives of her many customers, whether it was the senior citizens getting their milk and bread, those doing the Lotto, youngsters getting top-ups for their mobiles or the secondary-school students getting their lunch there.
The closure won’t show up in the official statistics but it is the human side of this latest in what has become an epidemic that should make us all bolt up and ask: What can we do? She gave part-time work to four people and provided a number of local suppliers with business.
“Margins are just so small in this business,” she explained. “If a customer came in and bought 20 cigarettes, €10 phone top-up and a €4 Lotto quick pick, it costs €23.10. The shop keeper has 80 cents out of that. You cannot survive on that,” she said.
“They are the big things for the corner shop. For the phone top-up, if you charge the extra, they won’t come into you. Then you are only a service for them,” she added. As with many small shops, you can now pay your utility bills there but it comes at a cost to the grocer. “You pay your ESB bill in my shop so that direct debit would come out the next day. So if someone paid €150 for their ESB bill Payzone will give the shopkeeper 19 cents and the bank will charge the shopkeeper 20 cents for the direct debit. You have lost a cent and it is pure madness,” she rightly pointed out.
What can we do to save these shops?
“The bigger companies, the Vodafones, Meteors, the 02s – they are all making profit out of the shopkeeper and the shopkeeper is not making anything. Someone needs to fight for the margins. Like the cigarettes it is just crazy and all the money tied up in them. There is very, very little profit in cigarettes and it is nightmare stocking them,” she said.
She knows that government intervention is needed to level the playing pitch against what she calls the multiples, the huge stores in the city centre and on the periphery.
“If people can just support corner shop by just a little bit more every week – I know everything is cheaper in the multiples but if you buy one sliced pan a week in the corner shop it will make a difference,” she pleaded.
Ellen had the franchise for the Lotto and recalled the great fun she had with customers coming in and doing the numbers. “If I had a euro for every tine someone said they would share their Lotto winnings with me, I would be a wealthy woman now,” she laughed.
She continues to smile even though her heart is broken and while she has a warm personality, she is at the back of it all, a shy person who came out of her shell and blossomed once she went behind that counter for 13 hours a day.
Ellen Murphy is a worker, with a degree in international business with French and German from DCU and would be an asset to any company or business; a person with a heart of gold who got hit by the recession. She brought no huge tracts of land no apartments in Spain or duplexes on the Freshford Road, yet she is paying a heavier price than most.
She is delighted with the support from the father of her children, Cian O’Sullivan. She has given a lot to the community, a member of the board of management of the Presentation Primary School, a reader at St Mary’s Cathedral, a member of the parents association in the school, a woman who has in many ways helped those, paradoxically, worse off then herself.
“It is hard to pull in somewhere now and do the lottery. I had to go to Seamus Delaney’s and it hurt that I could no longer do it at home,” she said.
When the new car parking charges were implemented, it meant that people on their way home from work, who used to pass on their way to their cars, stopped doing it because of the charges and parked outside of the city boundary but when the Borough Council put double yellow lines outside the shop it was an even bigger blow.
“The car park charges probably freed up space for residents but people don’t have the money they had four or five years ago to pay for every little thing,” she said.
It became really hard for Ellen two years ago and she spent the last 24 months hoping that things would improve. They didn’t and the former shop is now on the market with David Fitzgerald.
She mistakenly feels she has left people down. No one feels that and there is nothing but goodwill towards her. Getting up every morning at 6am and opening the door at 7.20am and closing just after 8pm every night is daunting for anyone but she did it while looking after her two primary-school going children.
It was a hard life but she loved it, meeting the people, hearing the gossip, having a laugh with the neighbours and being a part of the community. For the first few days after the closure she was afraid to go outside the door and when she does so now, it is with her head bowed. She should hold her head high.
“People think that when you are running your own business, you have money or things are going well for you. But the margins are so small, like 1.4% on a phone top-up, it’s a joke,” she said.
However, she is not bitter and merely wants to highlight the issue in the hope that it wail save some other small shop like hers from closing. “Who do I get bitter with? I decided seven and a half years ago to take it on. It’s my problem and the only thing the Government can do is to bring in legislation to make it fairer on the shopkeeper. How many corner shops are gone? It is an epidemic because we are employing small numbers and it is not making the headlines. I employed four people part-time and lovely girls and boys, wonderful, great workers. I know they were only getting a few hours a week but it was good for them and they too are heartbroken,” she said.
“I prefer to buy from the corner shops even though it would be easier to walk down to Superquinn, even buying the cheaper milk in the shops, but I buy Avonmore milk of course – my father is a Glanbia supplier so I have to buy it,” she laughs.
She also feels that the banks, owned by the taxpayer, need to change. “They charge me €2 for every €100 on coins I lodge,” she said.
“I would try and change around the place but if someone comes in and pays €10 in coins for cigarettes my profit is gone. The banks need to level out the playing field,” she added.
Putting in context, she said it was all the extra hidden costs.”I had to pay €50 a week in rates before I even opened the door. It’s very hard to make €50 here,” she said. With a tear in her eye she talks of the support and how you realise who your friends are when you are in trouble and understand what wonderful neighbours you have.
What is next for Ellen Murphy? She is finding it hard to stop. At present she is busy packing up, waiting for the Cash and Carry to come and take the stuff away. “Outwardly I have a good outlook but inwardly I know that I need to get back to work. Your confidence is knocked and your soul is destroyed,” she said.