Losing the heart of Limerick city

WITHIN the last few years Limerick has seen much-loved local, family run businesses close their doors due to ‘rising costs and declining footfall in the area’.

While Limerick has seen a rise in popular chains, such as Costas and Starbucks, the opening of Boojum on O’Connell St., and the imminent opening of Nando’s, local business owner Brian Mortell has seen his staff go from around 25-30 staff to just three members of staff in the last few years. 

Mortell’s Delicatessen and Seafood Restaurant has been on Roches St. for 62 years, which leaves the question lingering among locals and business owners alike, “Is Limerick city really losing its heart to chains?”

Brian Mortell and his wife, Maggie, took over the family business over 30 years ago, they admit that although they have had some great years on Roche’s St., the business has “had its highs and lows and at times it’s been hard to keep going.’’

Brian Mortell remembers the city being almost nothing like it is now; “When I started here 35 years ago, [all the restaurants] were family restaurants and we’re one of the last ones left around the place.” 

One reason why many family run businesses aren’t surviving in Limerick, according to Maggie Mortell, is the “loyalty of the people.”

The couple feel that the people in Limerick are interested in going to the new ‘in’ places in prime city locations, but “the ‘in’ places come and go. It’s only ever so long before there’s another new ‘in’ place.” 

According to Libby Hickey, of family-run South’s Pub, planning is a significant reason why local and family run businesses are struggling: “there is no planning in the city and the talks of making O’Connell Street completely pedestrianised would be ridiculous when the footfall is already low enough.”

 Brian Mortell fears there has been a loss of tradition: “We’ve lost our family ways and we’ve become ‘Americanised.’

“People come to Limerick from all over the world and stop in Mortell’s, and even though it is only for a few months of the year, it lifts the spirits in the Mortell family.”

“We will chat to anyone that comes in which is something you won’t get in your high street coffee shop, but that’s not what cafés are about anymore. Young people aren’t interested in talking to the people behind the counter, so chain cafes like Starbucks suit them.”

As Brian Mortell goes to the till, a regular customer pays for his breakfast and his coffee.

There is a friendly interaction and when he leaves, the regular says: “I’ll be running a bit late tomorrow morning, don’t worry about me!” 

Mr Mortell explained that the man lives on his own and he comes into the cafe every morning.

The Mortell’s have his sister’s number just in case he doesn’t show up. 

This is just one of the ways the Mortell’s keep the family values and the heart of Limerick alive.

The answer to keeping Limerick’s culture and heart alive may be the planning of the City Council. 

Councillor Brian Leddin said that “poor planning doesn’t serve anybody particularly well in the long run,” and although Limerick has the likes of Costa and Starbucks in the centre, the city “would probably have a lot more of both these and family owned businesses if the planning was done well,” Cllr Leddin said.

“We must incentivise living in the city centre, not just travelling to and from it. It’s the people who live in the city that will be the main source of footfall that will sustain local businesses.” 

He also added “no doubt that there is opportunity there for both the big chains and locally owned businesses, but they will have to adapt.’’

Limerick Voice 2019 newspaper is available today in all copies of the Limerick Leader.

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