Slow Economy Bites Irish Business

November 19, 2008

By April Drew
IRISH businesses in New York are feeling the pinch as the economy sinks into a recession.

Touting the downturn in the economy and the lack of legal immigration into the United States from Ireland, Eugene Collum, a Donegal native and proprietor of Eileen’s Country Kitchen in Yonkers, told the Irish Voice that October was his quietest month in eight years.

“It’s a tough economy and there are no new Irish coming in so business is slow at the minute,” said Collum.

Asked what are he and his wife Eileen’s, who co-owns the restaurant with Collum, plans are for the future, Collum said they would just have to weather the storm and hope for a brighter new year.

“Our prices are at rock bottom, we really can’t charge any less so we just have to batten down the hatch and work with it,” he said.

Collum said the neighborhood has been quiet for a long time with the numbers of Irish people who moved back to Ireland in the past few years, and few new Irish immigrants coming to the U.S.

John Daly, a Queens carpenter who decided to start his own carpentry business two years ago, told the Irish Voice it was a good idea at the time, but now business is slow and he had to let go the three staff he had recently hired.

“I had been working in New York and surrounding areas for over 12 years as a finish carpenter and decided two years ago it was time to start my own company,” said Daly, who left Co. Galway for a better life in New York in 1995.

“I was doing great there for about a year and a half,” he added. “Work was coming in. I took on one lad, another Galway lad, and then I hired two other lads from Mexico who helped us out.”

Unfortunately, Daly explains, work began to dry up after the summer came to an end, and he found himself with not enough money to pay his employees so he had to let them go one by one.

“Now it’s just me again and I only have odd jobs here and there, and I’m not liking it,” he said.

Daly admitted he contemplated moving back to Ireland at the beginning of the year when the Celtic Tiger was still somewhat roaring. Now he is glad he didn’t make that decision.

“Things may be slow here, but if I was in Ireland I probably would be drawing the dole,” he said.

“My two brothers (plumber and carpenter) are out of work for the last few weeks. It’s frightening. I just really hope I can keep things going here for myself.”

Patrick McGowan, president and CEO of McGowan Builders, told the Irish Voice on Monday that his company of nine years is fortunate enough to have not yet been affected by the recession.

“Fortunately for us we had a nice backlog of work to keep us going right through the new year, but it’s the new year that I think we will begin to see the effects,” said Co. Sligo native McGowan, who was on his way to Newark Airport to visit his Florida office.

“We are also fortunate because we do a little bit of everything,” said McGowan.

Although, McGowan builders don’t build family homes, they do specialize across the board in mid rises, offices, hospitals and hotel constructions.

“I think we have been less affected than a lot of other construction companies because we are so diverse,” said McGowan.

More concerned about what 2009 has to offer, McGowan did say that 25% of the company’s work is in retail.

“The forecast for retail isn’t good for Christmas so we will more than likely take a hit in that area,” he added.

McGowan, who has a staff of 60 and employs about 30 Irish immigrants, is hopeful that the new Obama administration will introduce a plan to stimulate the economy.

“I could see more public work being done, a sector we do a lot of work in,” he said.

On Obama raising taxes for businesses, McGowan said that although it will naturally affect his business, he is a firm believer in paying a little bit more tax as an individual or as cooperation “as long as you have an economy working well,” said McGowan, whose brother Martin is the vice president of the company.

Oliver Charles, owner of the Butcher’s Fancy in Yonkers, told the Irish Voice that his business has been hit with a slight slow down but in general he is staying afloat.

“People are coming in here and buying their steak instead of going to the restaurant because they can’t afford to anymore. They can buy their meat here and cook at home,” said Charles, a native of Co. Leitrim.

Charles said he has noticed a lot of Irish tradesmen losing their jobs or having their hours cut down, and he worries for the future of the Irish community in the Yonkers area and his own business.

Ciaran Staunton, owner of O’Neill’s bar and restaurant in Manhattan, said his business is benefiting thanks to people “trading down.”

Staunton puts his mid level prices down to the fact that his business is still steady despite the current recession.

“This year people are trading down from elaborate and exclusive parties to smaller, more cost efficient parties. People whose budget last year was $20.000 or $30,000 are only spending $5,000 or $6,000 this year,” he said.

Staunton also said he feels the Irish bars in the city are holding their own.

“We had five or six new Irish people in over the past few weeks looking for work, and when we were looking for a part time bartender for the bar and called these people back they all had jobs.”

Staunton said that although O’Neill’s is going into two of its busiest months, he estimates that January and February will be quieter, as is the case in all hospitality businesses. But he feels it’s no different than any other year. “In fact our party figures are up from this time last year,” he said.

Staunton said it’s an occurring cycle, “People forget we live in a country of 300 million people. It’s not as if nothing is going to happen for a number of years. We’ve seen the recessions in the eighties and nineties come and go.”

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