So this is a long post about the City Council actively discouraging our return to the city by arbitrarily denying us the restart grant. We hope you’ll read it, consider it, and maybe pass any thoughts you have along to your local councillor.
While we were getting all set up for our Games Library sale on Thursday we received the below email from Cork City Council.
Our business restart grant application for Tabletop had been rejected.
This came as a genuine surprise to us. Earlier in the week, and twice over the past number of weeks, we had been assured that everything was in order and that we met all criteria. But now, no. So we replied asking for clarification. To say we were shocked by what came next is a bit of an understatement.
This person had read online, on The Echo and Cork Beo, that we were not re-opening. Those articles had only just gone live. We hadn’t given interviews for either one, and in fact had contacted Cork Beo to change their headline and fix a factual error in the body of the article, which they quickly did in fairness. The Cork Beo had initially stated we were “Permanently Closed”, which was simply not the case. We have no real issue with either article apart from that glaringly false headline (I suppose it was more clickable with the additional adjective). They both borrowed heavily from the facebook post and blog I had written, so grand. But it is worth noting that nobody actually spoke to us before going to print.
What we do have a big problem with is the fact that someone in City Council can read some stories while scrolling Facebook (it’s not like they get the daily Beo delivered…) and then just click decline on a businesses application without bothering to contact the business in question. Don’t believe everything you read online folks!
So now we have to appeal. We have a letter from our accountants, confirming that Tabletop is still an active business, and one from our local estate agent confirming that we have asked him to keep an eye out for a new location for us.
Tabletop on Castle Street simply was not viable in the Covid environment. I had initially written that previous sentence as ‘post-Covid’, but that is incorrect. We are still very much in the middle of this thing. A customer said to us during the emotional games sale Thursday and Friday that “a big part of tabletop was the atmosphere, seeing what the people at the next table were playing, the buzz and business”. That buzz would be gone. We could not understand how to safely provide games, and teaching, to everyone that came through our door while maintaining distance and the necessary sanitation. From a cold financial point of view, we don’t have the backing to sustain a sinking business for months on end. June, July and August are our quietest months. Then we hit Christmas, but we need funds to buy stock. It would not have worked. Staying open on Castle Street in this environment would have killed Tabletop, and damaged us.
The decision to move Tabletop online was one we really wrestled with. In the end it came down to the stark fact that without this move, Tabletop would cease to be. We did not want that. By moving online, and changing Tabletop West to simply ‘West’ and re-orienting towards a food and drink offering, we think we can keep the business going until such a time that a BIGGER and better site can be found in the city centre. We fully plan to return at some point, be in the next year or early 2022.
So back to the restart grant. In early May the big announcement from the previous government was that all rateable businesses could apply for a restart grant based on their rates bill from the previous year. This is one of a very few measures that were not based on accruing more debt. It took a while, but applications opened on May 22 (Friday) and we got ours in straight away (after 5pm on 22nd, so let’s call it Monday the 25th of May). The grant was supposed to take a week to process. It did not come.
We called and were assured that all was in order, but the funds had not been released from the government. We called again a week later but this time there was an IT issue. If the grant had come early in June we would have reopened as a shop, I have no doubt. It didn’t come. We called again and were again assured that all was in order but they were being sent out in order of the phases. Cafes were in phase 3 so it should not take long. But it was too late. We had to make a decision and simply could not wait.
We checked the criteria. Clearly stated is the fact that businesses are eligible if they “commit to open or to reopen if it was closed”. An employee has to be retained, but sole trader (me) counts as an employee. We decided that with the restart grant we could clear our suppliers bills and order new stock for the webstore, as well as make it a bit more user friendly and generally nice looking. We planned to expand our reach beyond Cork, and even Ireland, with shipping options to the UK and Europe. We planned to focus our Tabletop facebook solely on games, with more regular blog posts and even some videos in time. All of this was planned to keep the brand and idea of Tabletop Cork alive, so we could return to the city.
Without the restart grant we don’t see how we can restart. What baffles us, beyond the arbitrary nature of someone reading an article online and having the power to fuck up our business based on that with no contact, is how the City Council do not recognise the value that Tabletop brings to the city. They have been quick to contact us about Purple Flag City applications or to speak at their “The City of Play” symposium in City Hall. When we need help – crickets.
This is pretty black and white. We meet the criteria. If those criteria have changed, and now the business must stay in the same physical location, then we would like that change explained to us; Who made that call? When? Is it applicable nationwide? Where have they stated? Nowhere on their website anyway.
In Bantry, on Friday last at the same time that the city was shitting on us, Tabletop West received confirmation that the County Council grant was coming. It is tempting to rant about unelected pencil pushers, but the Cork County Council have been nothing but accommodating, and genuinely sound like they care when we speak to them on the phone. What is interesting is that West is a Bar, and thus due to reopen in Phase 5. But we have now been granted the restart grant, at the start of phase 3.
We really hope that the City Council reconsider the denial of our application. We feel that Tabletop still has a lot to offer to our city and community. If they decide to double down and deny us, that’s that. We will do our best to return, but to be honest everything gets a lot harder. And how can we fight to return to a city where the council appears to actively not want us operating?
You can help by contacting your local councillor or emailing the council directly. We’ve no idea, but maybe every bit of pressure will help.
For now, we have to focus on getting West reopened. We open Friday the 3rd and have a whole lot of cleaning and cooking to do between now and then! Come visit us soon – Bantry is genuinely a beautiful town, and West Cork is really the best place to be on an Irish summer’s day (sun and/or rain).
Chris & Emer