Irish LGBTQ+ venues risk closure following surging energy bills

Many LGBTQ+ businesses in Ireland are struggling following the increase in energy bills.

A split screen image of a restaurant owner standing in front of the Vegan Sandwich Company storefront and a man standing in front of an orange wall wearing a Queer AF shirt. The businesses represent LGBTQ+ venues risking closure following surging energy bills in Ireland.
Image: @VeganSandwich via Instagram/@allmyfriendspub via Instagram

After many establishments survived closure during lockdown in 2020, the reopening of LGBTQ+ venues was met with joy and relief from business owners and customers alike. This impact was particularly significant for queer spaces which provide an essential sense of belonging, stability, and safety that was deeply missed during the height of the pandemic. 

The past few years have been difficult for small businesses. Those that survived the closures are now facing soaring energy costs. With rent increases and inflation, business expenses are increasingly difficult to manage and predict. Energy prices are expected to surge as we head into the winter months, and there is growing uncertainty over whether some beloved establishments will be able to survive. 

Community response to business closures
Last week, Vegan Sandwich Company (VSC) owner, Sam Pearson, shared that both stores were closing abruptly. The decision was attributed to several financial factors including their rent doubling, growing energy prices, and constant increases in ingredient costs. 

As a staple in the Dublin community, the response has been heartbreaking. Loyal customers shared their disappointment and heartache over the news on social media:

“Have a pit in my stomach reading this, I am so sorry that our government have allowed your dreams to dissolve like this. There is a serious lack of support for small business owners at the moment and I don’t know what the future of small businesses looks like anymore.” – @Kerriann95

“This is so sad. I hate that our government is standing by allowing such fantastic and hard working small businesses [to] suffer like this. Thanks for all the stunning taco wedges and work lunches you’ve provided to us in Rocky Road Minerals in the green – you will be deeply missed and have a team of people waiting to support you in everything you do in the future” – @_charlie_alexander_13

“I am completely heartbroken for you all – truly the best vegan restaurant and a staple for the last few years. Here for whatever the future of VSC may hold” – @hollsfoodnfit

The VSC was more than a restaurant, it was a brand synonymous with friendliness and queer community. On any weekday afternoon, its familiar logo could be spotted on tote bags carrying vegan chicken fillet rolls across the capital. While some business closures are expected in the current financial climate, losing an establishment with a cult following feels particularly shocking and unsettling. 

The VSC store was an unofficial LGBTQ+ space, with many employees openly identifying as queer and each restaurant dotted with Pride flags and decor. Its sudden departure is an unsettling warning for additional queer venue closures if urgent action isn’t taken.  

Last month, we saw more restaurants and cafés close unexpectedly. These closures impact business owners, employees, and customers on deeply personal levels. Job losses and the cost of living crisis have negative ripple effects as young queer people are forced to move back home or into potentially unsafe living situations.  

Irish LGBTQ+ Venues Respond
Without government support, more LGBTQ+ venues may be forced to limit their hours, cut staff, raise prices, or close their doors. When asked how rising energy bills and operation costs are impacting their venue, local queer businesses owner, John Keelan, from All My Friends said,

“As a new business we are dealing with an extraordinary and unprecedented rise in energy costs. We opened in June 2022 after acquiring the premises in January 2020 and received no financial assistance during the crippling lockdowns.

While we are lucky to have such a loyal community supporting us, we received notification this week of a 40% increase from one of our energy suppliers which is massively debilitating to an operation of our size. A hike like this is ultimately the difference between hiring a new staff member or not and creates a huge amount of uncertainty on how we budget for the winter and beyond, with the threat of further increases looming large.

Further increases could very well force us to close midweek which is hugely frustrating given the lack of safe spaces available for the LGBTQIA community in the city as it is. We feel that the government missed a vital opportunity to stabilise prices by putting a price cap on energy costs for the winter months for SMEs such as ourselves. We will continue to provide a safe space for our community but we need stability and a clear plan from our government if we are to continue to be financially viable.”

As we anticipate the possibility of additional LGBTQ+ venue closures, RTÉ has confirmed that the government is developing an energy costs package to support businesses in 2023, but the details have not yet been shared with the public.

The unsustainable costs of operating these venues need to be addressed with urgency. While there are steps customers can take, like choosing to frequent queer venues and spreading the word about LGBTQ+ businesses that need our support, it’s clear that government action is needed to counteract the current financial crisis and prevent the closure of LGBTQ+ venues.

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