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‘I was probably taking 120 calls a day’

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FLAT OUT John Casey has had a busy two months since lockdown first took place.

Casey’s hardware in Charlestown is now re-open but proprietor John has had a very busy last two months

Oisin McGovern

Slowly but surely, rural towns like Charlestown are beginning to re-open. Local businessman John Casey has witnessed first-hand how the lockdown has ground his home-town to a near halt. After Casey’s renowned hardware and furniture store on Main Street shut its doors on Saturday, March 28, fewer than a handful of ‘essential’ businesses kept going in the town.
Speaking to The Mayo News during a rare lull in business, the former Mayo footballer said: “It was one of the most surreal experiences. I fully expected to see a tumbleweed rolling up the street. It was unbelievable to be honest. It was scarily, eerily quiet. We’ve had quite a few people in the door the past week saying ‘Thank God you’re open again. Charlestown wasn’t the same while ye were shut’.”
Having re-opened last Monday seven weeks after shutting down, business has been brisk. While their furniture concern is very quiet, painting, gardening and DIY supplies are in hot demand. Ronseal is so scarce than an incoming order is expected to be ‘gone before it comes off the pallet’.
Road traffic is up substantially and local tradesmen working on unfinished projects are back make regular calls for supplies. Indeed, the town had become so quiet over the past few weeks that Casey describes hearing the sound of a Kango hammering away ‘as music to my ears – you’d hear a penny drop in the town a few weeks ago’.
While Charlestown almost ground to a complete halt, Casey has had two of the busiest months of his life. Upon shutting the door on March 28, the RTÉ GAA pundit left his mobile number pinned at the front of the shop for anyone who was stuck.
As he puts it himself: “I fully expected when we pulled the shutters down and I left my number up that I’d get five calls a day, but I was probably taking 120 calls a day. I was also trying to navigate minding three children and doing homeschooling. I helped out anyone I could. There were a lot of vulnerable people, who were cocooned. On top of that I was on trying to organise home deliveries, taking card numbers over the phone and dropping stuff to houses without seeing the people, it was a bit relentless.”
As a one-man operation, Casey helped out customers one at a time while maintaining the strictest of social distancing. Indeed, the work load took as much out of him as any of John Maughan’s notorious running sessions during his days in the Green and Red jersey.

‘I was flaked’
He said: “If I had two more staff, we still would’ve been very busy. I was flaked, mentally and physically at 4.30pm every evening. I had about 1,000 post-its left up of different things to remember. If I went home to keep an eye on my kids – I live literally 50 metres from the business – if I tried to run home for a cup of tea or to check the homework, the phone could ring twenty times in half an hour. I was going to bed hearing my phone ringing in my head.”
Opening up once again on May 18 has returned some sense of normality to his store. Bar one employee whose husband works in Mayo University Hospital, all of his staff have returned to work. As the husband of a wife who is recovering from cancer, Casey has left no stone unturned in minimising the risk of Covid-19 to staff and customers in his store.
Perspex windows have been installed at the counter as well as a spaghetti highway of signs to ensure one-way travel around the store.
Apart from the odd narky customer, the vast majority of people of people are willing to comply with longer queues and physical distancing.
Casey says: “We’ve had one or two narky people in. Some people aren’t adhering to social distancing rules. One buck stormed out and said ‘I don’t give a f**k about coronavirus!’”
Other businesses in the town are gradually starting to get back on their feet. Queues of cars formed when restaurants in the area opened for takeaway recently. However, with hairdressers shuttered until July 20 and pubs not due to open until August 10, an air of uncertainty hangs over whether some businesses can afford to re-open.
Casey says: “There’s other places that are wondering will they ever open again. It’s so weird to walk down the town and see hairdressers and everything closed. July 20 is another two months away. I haven’t actually left Charlestown in eight weeks.”
Having being flooded with well-wishes since re-opening, the father-of-three hopes that people will continue to shop local during these uncertain times.
“We’ve got lots of messages of appreciation from people who say they’re delighted to have us back in tow. So hopefully that will continue.”