SO CALLED cocooners were among the first people through the gates of one Limerick garden centre when it reopened on Monday morning.
While Curraghchase Garden Centre has been offering a home delivery and limited collection service for the past seven weeks, it had been closed to the public since the middle of March.
“This has been one of the most challenging years since we have opened the place for obvious reasons," said Ray Conway who owns and runs the garden centre with his wife Joy.
“We have also changed the layout of the garden centre, we have put a one-way system in place, we have signs up to guide people around, we are also limiting the number of people who can come in at any one time," said Ray, who added that staff have been supplied with full PPE.
One of the first customers through the gates shortly after 10am was retired teacher Olive Fitzgerald from Kildimo.
"It's wonderful, I couldn't wait this morning and it's great. It's wonderful to see some businesses opening up slowly and safely and hopefully we can back to normal soon," said Olive as she picked up a tray of colourful Petunias.
Another cocooner – Lily Miller from Ballycahane – Pallaskenry said she was delighted to be able to leave home to come to the garden centre.
"It's great to be able to come here and do my garden. I have been pulling weeds for the last few weeks even before they showed their heads. I have been digging the soil because I love my gardening," said the grandmother of eight who revealed that she had been tested for Covid-19 during lockdown.
"I did have an experience, I did have to go and get tested because I was sick a couple of weeks ago but luckily it was negative. I had all the symptoms and the doctor sent me for a test and it was some experience going in (to the LIT Gaelic Grounds)," she said.
In contrast to the steady flow of customers at Curraghchase Garden Centre, large queues formed, from 7am, outside larger stores in Limerick city such as B&Q, Woodies and Homebase.
"We are allowing a maximum in of 20 (people) at a time. If I feel it gets too busy we can lower it or raise it as we need to," said Winnie Coffey, store manager at Woodies who added that paint, plants and compost were the most popular items in shoppers' trolleys.
"I'm picking up a few bits for the garden for the summer. I need to get a parasol and a fire pit. We need to stay at home this summer. I think everyone has a responsibility. There won't be much in the way of holidays going on, so we need to make it as comfortable as possible, and as easy as possible," explained Hugh Fenton who was one of the first customers in the queue.
The city centre was also noticeably busier on Monday following the re-opening of some businesses.
John Fitzgerald of Jack Fitzgerald Electrical said one of the safety measures at the store is the installation of a hot-water sink at the entrance.
"This is a new normal for us now. We might not see the normal that we were used to a few weeks back. But we're glad to be back and glad to welcome our customers again. Hopefully if we all keep doing the right things, we'll get through this a lot sooner."
Valerie Fine, of Fine’s Opticians, said things will be a lot different at the family-owned business, which was first established 41 years ago.
“We have done everything that we need to have done and we were in all week getting everything ready and sterilised and we have a system in place for social distancing,” she said.