When you travel anywhere abroad nowadays, you can’t help but notice the way Ireland has caught up with, and indeed even surpassed, many “developed” countries in Europe and farther afield. We can take pride in and appreciate our Christian way of life, our civil liberties, our education system, our health service, a caring society. We can be proud of and must be determined to safeguard the way our historic and sometimes turbulent past is now starting to blend with what we hope will be a modern and enlightened future. Athenry and its hinterland mirror this image of progressive modern Ireland; the town and rural communities are interwoven and compatible.
The intention in this article in particular is to focus on the immense importance of the business sector in our community if there is to be growth and development. Business people operate in a competitive climate and the successful running of a business today demands great energy, ability and commitment.
At a cursory glance many people would regard Athenry as “a small town near Galway”. So let us have a look at the business profile of the town in a little more detail on the table here showing the approximate number of retail businesses in the town by category.
4 – Auctioneers, Building Societies, Insurance Offices
2 – Banks
4 – Butchers
3 – Chemists
1 – Credit Union
4 • Drapery/Boutique
2 – Dressmaking
3 – Fast Food Takeaway
2 – Flower Shops
4 – Forecourt Shops
1 – Forge/Smithy
2 – Fruit and Vegetable
5 – Garages Car Repairs
1 – Glass/Crystal Manufacturing
16 – Grocery / Confectioners
2 – Guest Houses
8 – Hairdresser/Barber
2 – Hardware/Furniture
1 – Hostel
2 – Hotels
1 – Joinery/Timber Factors
1 – Lawnmower/Bicycle
17 – Licensed Premises
1 – Nursing Home
1 – Photography
1 – Shoemaker
2 – Undertakers/Funeral Homes
1 – Video/TV Sales
You’re probably surprised to find there are over ninety retail businesses in the immediate town area.
Other figures that may be of interest are:
l. The number of people employed in those retail outlets (including owners) – 207.
2. The amount of money we spent with those businesses in the past year – in excess of £14 million.
3. The amount of investment by Athenry retail outlets 1990-1995 in extensions, refurbishment and development to improve customer services – 1.2 million. (Note – figures are estimated but conservative).
These figures do not include expenditure on legal, medical or veterinary fees, bank or credit union transactions, factory or engineering works, bus, hackney or taxi services, or the considerable amount of other significant commercial enterprises that operate in the town, parish and surrounding area such as the Mart, the Creamery and Athenry Railway Station.
Taking those into account would provide scope for substantial separate research and further evidence of the commercial importance of Athenry.
Further development of Athenry and its hinterland can be nurtured and encouraged by a thriving and vibrant business sector. The figures do show how important this sector is employment wise.
That it has invested heavily in improving shopping standards and facilities, showing commitment to the town and community. The people who shop in Athenry and spent £l4 million there last year must be encouraged to continue and indeed increase their support for Local Businesses by spending more of their money at home.
But it’s not as simple as that. Exhortations to shop locally have to be based on the reality that we are located near Galway and that shopping has a social side to it; that people like to travel to other centres to see “what’s new” etc. Businesses must continue to invest in better facilities, higher standards, modern display units
and meeting the needs of customers to ensure their continued support. Today’s customer is well informed, demands good service, variety and choice, is mobile and cannot be taken for granted. “I can’t get it in Athenry” is a phrase every business person should note carefully.
In fairness, Athenry business people are meeting the challenge of competition from Galway and larger centres with increasing professionalism and investment. They are people of energy and talent. At one stage a few short years ago it was gloomily predicted that small shops would be eliminated in a short time. This position has stabilised and the big retail stores are finding their growth curtailed by the successful fight back from independent family owned businesses.
Commercial consideration apart business people already prominent in many local organisations, should feel encouraged to assume a much greater role in the community at large, being proactive in local affairs and supporting local enterprises and events financially, and by participation.
The support of the public for local businesses can thus be maintained and increased. This article is titled “Whither Athenry”. The business sector can continue to provide, and indeed must provide, an important part of the answer in the years ahead.
Written by Tommy McNamara
Published here 09 Feb 2021 and originally published November 1995
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