Exorbitant overheads 'killing the pub trade in Limerick', say vintners

ONE of County Limerick's landmark pubs has been forced to shut its doors for the final time and several more could soon follow suit according to vintners who say exorbitant overhead costs and low footfall is killing their trade.

ONE of County Limerick's landmark pubs has been forced to shut its doors for the final time and several more could soon follow suit according to vintners who say exorbitant overhead costs and low footfall is killing their trade.

Ivan's Bar in Kilmallock which was named 'pub of the year' in 1997, ceased trading last week while another well-known Limerick city pub has gone into liquidation.

Pressure from the Revenue, coupled with the availability of alcohol at supermarket prices, and a general slump in trade due to the recession has meant that in the region of 60 pubs in Limerick did not renew their licence this year.

According to Ivan Whitley the proprietor of Ivan's Bar in Kilmallock, he was left with no option but to call last orders two weeks before Christmas.

"I found since December/January last that it's been very difficult. I just wasn't getting the people in," said Mr Whitley as he tidied up in his deserted pub on Sarsfield Street, Kilmallock this week.

Mr Whitley who purchased the pub in 1999 after selling his farm in Carrigaline in Cork took the decision to shut the pub on December 14 after 11-and-a half years in business.

He said he could no longer compete with the rock-bottom supermarket prices and the increasing incidences of people sneaking drink onto his premises.

"I had two parties the previous weekend – one of them was an 18th and I had three staff and myself and we only took in half the takings we should have taken in. The next morning I was sweeping up caps of Budweiser and empty vodka bottles," said Mr Whitley.

"My biggest problem was that I had a young crowd and they were bringing in their own drink. There were buying boxes for €15 and I'm charging €4 a bottle. When you have parties, it is very hard to police that because you would be busy," he said.

Like many other publicans in Limerick, Mr Whitley said he was coming under pressure from the Revenue but added that his main difficulty was getting punters into the premises – a premises which enjoyed a roaring trade during the so-called Celtic Tiger era.

"It's going on over two years and it hit very hard this year. The young crowd haven't got the money. I was a sports pub but Sky was costing too much - people are not coming out to watch the matches anymore – not to the degree they used to be. My Friday night died – the young crowd weren't coming out. On Saturday night I lost a lot of customers because they were in the construction business – they went on the dole and they had kids and a wife to look after.

"I don't really know what to do because the money isn't around," he lamented.

While the premises is up for sale, Mr Whitley is not confident of getting a buyer, and if he does, he expects "to take a hit".

"I don't think it will sell. I have had it on the market since the end of 2007."

In the city meanwhile, the latest pub to fall victim to the recession is Quilty's pub in Thomondgate – a favourite watering hole amongst Munster rugby supporters.

Michael Dolan, the owner of Quilty's, which has been a Thomondgate institution for generations, had no choice but to go into liquidation.

"All staff knew trade was poor.It's a very upsetting time for everyone.There are no winners in this one," he said.

According to David Hickey, owner of South's pub on Quinlan Street in the city "there isn't a hope in the world" of publicans with high mortgages and leases surviving in the current climate.

"We can't compete – this is what's wrong, we can't compete with the low cost selling, we can't compete with the cost of running pubs. People have commitments and mortgages and their expenses are gone too high," said Mr Hickey who warned of worsening news for the trade in the coming months in the face of higher overheads and extreme weather conditions.

"We are going to be down this year – we were down last year. How much more can we take?I would be very fearful for the month of Janaary - what will be left if this weather holds?," he continued.

West Limerick TD Niall Collins says that he has received a number of calls from publicans in his constituency who are finding it difficult to meet licence renewal obligations.

"A number of them from around the county would have been on to me asking for assistance to agree a payment schedule with Revenue- a lot of them would be falling behind on their licensing commitments," said Deputy Collins.

"In fairness the Revenue are mandated to collect what ever is due or owed but they are realistic and willing to enter into payment plans where the payment can be spread over a period of time – it is either that or places close. I would have helped a number of them (publicans) from right across the county - from the west to the south to the east," he added.

Figures released last August showed that 58 publicans had failed to renew their licence in Limerick with only four weeks to the closing date. While the VFI were unable to confirm a final figure, it is believed that the number remained much the same following the closing date.

A publican's licence is an annual licence which expires on September 30 ever year for renewal on the first of October.

In order to renew the licence the publican has to have a tax clearance certificate which states that their taxes are all up-to-date and paid.

"If they don't have a tax clearance, the licence won't issue. They can be detected for unlicensed trading," said a Revenue spokesperson.

"The Gardai could take a case against them or the Revenue could make a detection and take a case against them," she added.