A CITY  centre business owner has called on a concrete support package for the beleaguered hospitality sector as his premises enters its second week of Coronavirus lockdown.

Former De La Salle College student Mark McCourt, who co-owns Thompsons Garage and the successful Thompsons Drinks Delivery service with his business partner Stephen Boyd, pulled down the shutters on the nightclub, an institution for two generations of clubbers, last Friday. Mark and Stephen have been at the helm for 13 years and have put their shoulders to the wheel in transforming the club and expanding the business to what it is today.

With a four-week ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown in place to try to stem the alarming increase in Coronavirus cases, Mark told the Andersonstown News that he and his team “spent thousands” in ensuring that Thompsons had all safety measures in place when it opened it doors from the first lockdown back in July.

“We have worked, adapted, essentially changed our business model from what it was, to adhere by the guidelines and we have been more than happy to do that, to keep our customers and people safe. Social distancing measures, temperature checks at the door, we have done it all. No matter how much money we have spent and complied with the guidelines you end up getting the finger pointed at you.

“Our capacity was 700, it’s now down to 200 people. There has been a lack of understanding from political parties as to what it takes to run our business. The rental breaks, the mortgage holiday is not there. We still have staff to be paid weekly. If you can’t earn money than how can you be expected to pay it out without support in place? We still have to pay rent, bank loans and staff wages. It is has been a stop-start, stop-start process,” he added.

As well as the four-week lockdown period, the sale of off-sales from pubs was also prohibited.

“We can’t sell off-sales or provide our delivery cocktail service but I can go to a supermarket that has one bottle of hand sanitizer at the front, with 300 to 400 people inside, very little social distancing and buy what I want there. It makes no sense at all. We can’t keep opening and closing like this.”

As business owners in the hospitality sector Mark said he his business partner’s priority is their staff.

“I can’t claim anything in the way of support until the start of November. We don’t know if the closure will be extended past November 13 when the four weeks is up. I don’t know where the answer is,” he said.

Mark said the lead-up to Halloween is normally a commercial and social highlight of the year.

“We would have had the place all done up, it always looks great. You would’ve had the students and then with it falling on a Saturday night it would have been a great night. I feel like the hospitality industry has become whipping boy for this. There are businesses out there that won’t come out the other side of this. We are doing everything that is expected of us. We understand the predicament that we are in and have no problem doing what is asked of us to keep people safe , but we need a viable solution to help businesses or there won’t be any businesses left.”