Like many places across the world, Fermanagh’s economy has not been immune to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic over the past 12 months.
Well-known High Street brands such as TopShop, Dorothy Perkins and Easons all closed down in Enniskillen, while other local businesses re-evaluated the way they were doing business and decided that they did not require a shop to continue operating.
However, there have also been bright spots throughout the year with new businesses popping up, with the most recent being the Between the Bridges Foodhall and Deli, opening on Good Friday where The Happiness Trap once operated.
The brainchild of Declan O’Donoghue and chef Paul Curry, the store is a huge boost for the town centre of Enniskillen, filling empty space, stocking local produce and employing locally, too.
Declan and Paul have put in a serious effort to make their idea a reality and they are delighted with how the first week has gone for them, and the support they have received.
“It’s been amazing – we couldn’t ask for better support,” said Declan, who also owns Erne Larder.
“You know when you do something and it’s untried, and then you open the doors and people actually come in, it’s kind of like, wow!
“Myself and Paul, we’ve put a lot of hard work in, we’ve been doing 18-hour days just to get the place open, and it’s a lot of money [that we’ve invested in this]. There’s no guarantees when you open, but the support has been just absolutely amazing; we couldn’t ask for better,” he added.
With many places closed due to Covid restrictions, either temporarily or permanently, Declan explained the feedback they got from customers shows that opening is exactly the kind of boost the town centre needed.
“That’s the one thing we’re getting back from people, and their feedback is that the town needs something like this.
“People are so sick and tired of doom and gloom and seeing the closed shutters and places not open. They just love that this one-stop shop has opened in the middle of the town. The feedback from the customers has been really, really positive.”
While they are currently only able to provide a retail experience for customers, Between the Bridges is hoping that whenever restrictions do ease, it will be able to offer more to customers.
“We have plans in the pipelines for doing gourmet nights and steak nights when restrictions are lifted,” explained Paul.
“We have a seating area and I think, Friday or Saturday will be ideal to do something like a steak night or, say, Bring Your Own Booze, or we’ll do like wine and cheese and tapas.
“The business was based around Covid restrictions, so we knew we could open and still serve customers within the restrictions, but we plan to do things on a Friday and Saturday night, when we can get bums on seats.”
Supporting local Northern Irish business is a big focus in the new store, and a dedicated corner will boast some of the best local produce, hand-picked by Declan.
“The idea and ethos is purely, and as much as we can, [to focus on] Northern Ireland [fare] and especially if we can supporting local smaller businesses in Fermanagh,” Declan added.
The Erne Larder Taste NI section will boast peanut butter, vinegar, chutney, jam, apple juice and granola among products from local producers and suppliers which customers will have the chance of supporting while the wooden shopping baskets are made in Fivemiletown using willow from Crom Estate, with Paul adding: “People are supporting their own economy without even knowing it.”
Many people may have been cautious about opening a new business during such uncertain times, but Declan and Paul have advice for those who have an idea they want to make a reality.
“Now is the time, if you have an idea that’s innovative and adventurous. If you are passionate for something you think can work within the restrictions, then do it because people will support it,” said Paul.
Declan added: “For me, at Erne Larder, last year was actually my busiest year. Covid and the lockdown came in March, and I thought, ‘There’s no food shows, no food festivals, I supply 130 shops across Northern Ireland with products’.
“We had a quiet few months, but the past six months was our busiest year. So, for me, Covid hurt a lot of businesses and hurt a lot of people, but now is the time if you have an idea.”