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‘Shop staff deserve State recognition’

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*Gala store owner, Laurence O’Brien.

“When we can gather together we intend on having one fantastic night out. It will most likely be in our garden, but we will look forward to that,” says Gala store owner Laurence O’Brien.

Laurence and Susan O’Brien own grocery shops in Cloughleigh, Drumbiggle and on the Tulla Road in Ennis, as well as a store in Kilmaley. Laurence is very proud of his 20 staff for their hard work throughout the pandemic.

“Our staff in particular were fantastic. Nobody went sick, nobody complained, some of them were under pressure. Some of our staff would have been higher risk and still came to work. It was their choice and it was really, really good but very, very tiring for both myself and Susan and all of our staff,” Laurence commented.

He believes all retail staff across Clare and beyond should be recognised for their hard work in the unprecedented circumstances that Covid-19 brought with it.

Laurence praised the commitment of his staff, who were working behind perspex screens and dealing with new regulations while others were receiving a pandemic payment. It’s not that we feel hard done by or anything like that but I think that those staff that went out to work didn’t get anything from the state and they won’t get anything from the state either, in a tax break or anything. They received literally nothing apart from their week’s wages as such but yet the rest of the country was getting a pandemic payment for not working.

“I just think that all the staff in small shops and big shops should be acknowledged. They did a fantastic job in keeping the shops open and going to work,” Laurence added.

Laurence outlined how the role of retail stores like his changed during the Covid-19 restrictions, with the local shop becoming more of a life line for the local community.

It became one of the only sources of social interaction for people when they couldn’t see family and friends.

“When people couldn’t go anywhere, going to the local shop became an event and people got to see other people at the shop, which was very important for some. Also the fact that we were delivering especially to the elderly or to those who were incapacitated, it made a huge difference to them because they actually go to see a face.

There was a huge community spirit behind all this. The amount of people that actually came to us and offered to do home deliveries for us was great,” Laurence said.

Laurence is very grateful to all of his customers and hopes that people now see the value of their local shop and will shop more often in their own community instead of visiting the larger supermarkets.

“I think that people realise more now how important the local shop is and the local shop is going to need people now more than ever as we go into the aftermath of the pandemic,” he commented.

Elaine has been a member of staff with The Clare Echo since its foundation in October 2017. The paper's first Chief Reporter, the Kilrush woman is now working as a sub-editor in our busy newsroom. In 2015, she graduated from the University of Limerick with a Masters in Journalism. Elaine briefly worked with the RTE Investigations Unit on the Standards in Public Office investigation before returning to Clare to continue her career as a reporter with the Clare People where she spent nine months as the West Clare correspondent and also covered the 2016 General Election and 2016 Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann.

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