ARMACHIANS need to do their bit to support the city's traders.
A rallying call has been issued by the Chair of Armagh's City Centre Management, urging people to spend their money in local shops and businesses.
By doing so you're keeping money in the local economy and keeping people in jobs, according to Art O'Hagan.
Virtually every retailer in Armagh has been impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak but Mr O'Hagan says Armagh's shops will be ready and waiting to help you when it is safe for them to open their doors.
Indeed, many of them have been trying their best to get their shutters up in recent days, goods that are selected on their online websites and delivering goods to the community
“The message to the public has to be: support your local traders who have supported you, they are at the heart of our city centre and are at the heart of our local community,” said Mr O'Hagan.
“That means that every pound you spend goes back into the local community.
“With Armagh having so many independent retailers, I feel that it gives the city an advantage. They're so unique.
“And we are so reliant on the local people who are used to shopping and getting quality goods in our stores over the years. They know that they are supporting local businesses and families.
“There are around 120 shops in Armagh City Centre and over 90% of those are family-owned. That's a lot.”
While many of us have missed our trips to the shops due to the restrictions currently in place, Armagh's retailers have missed you too, according to Mr O'Hagan.
“The retailers are all very anxious to get back and they want to get back trading immediately, or as soon as physically possible,” the proprietor of CPS Property Services said.
“There is a very positive vibe amongst the retailers. They are working closely with all of the government agencies to take advice and direction.
“Currently a lot of the shops are opening for an hour in the morning and then delivering goods to people who phone in and place their order.
“Everyone is being compliant with the regulations, first and foremost. Essential services only are open. Retailers have been very respectful of the legislation, putting their staff and their customers to the fore.”
The last few weeks have not been easy for city centre retailers and there will be challenges ahead, as Mr O'Hagan explained.
“Most businesses have applied for government assistance for small grant assistance, availing of the three-months rates free period. It will help them in the short term but in the long term businesses need to get going again and your support.
“We need the customers to feel safe to come back into premises. All shops will have their own policies, such as keeping people two metres apart, to protect their staff and the valued customers.
“We are going to have to compete with online trading too which cannot become the norm or our city centre will become irrelevant.Together we cannot let this happen. A lot of businesses are trying to do as much online trading as possible and a lot of those will deliver goods to your home.”
While Mr O'Hagan concedes that the internet presents the biggest threat to Armagh's retailers, he does feel that the city can recover from this as the traders are both resilient and want to serve you.
However, he added, “While we want all of the shops to be open, first and foremost they must be compliant.
“I would urge any retailer to prepare yourself for opening in line with government regulations. We hope that is in a few weeks from now, hopefully in May and, where possible offer your services online.
“City Centre Management will be launching a new initiative in conjunction with Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council to help businesses to get online in the long-term.
“Meanwhile, I would ask the people of Armagh to support us at this time.
“Our community spirit here in Armagh has been inspiring. The dedication shown by all front line workers from the NHS workers to many in the many caring professions, to the shop assistants and pharmacists; they deserve the utmost respect and support at this very delicate time.
“We are very fortunate to have a very focused Lord Mayor, who is reaching out the hand of friendship and support daily.
“The least we all can do is support our local high street trader, supporting those who offer the essential services at this time and those who will be opening their doors shortly who will all need your trade plus your encouragement to recreate our community retail hub.”