A major independent retailer in mid-Ulster has said a bank loan taken out under the government's Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme has been crucial to securing its future.
Paul Cuddy runs three Cuddys stores in Ballymena, Carrickfergus and Magherafelt with his brother Steven. Their father Robert started the business 62 years ago in Magherafelt when he bought a traditional drapers store, then known as Hughes' shop.
The branch in Ballymena followed around 28 years ago, then the Carrickfergus store was opened around 1998.
Now the three stores cover fashion, toys - with the Magherafelt store part of the Toymaster group - as well as cookwear and accessories. School uniforms are also a major part of the business.
Retail is in his blood. "I always wanted to go into retail. It was talked around kitchen table at dinner non-stop and that's all I ever wanted to do. Dad didn't force any of us into business and it was very clear if you wanted to go down another route it's fine but I always wanted to follow dad.
"It's a fantasic career, even though it has become a lot harder. I enjoy the buying process, seeing new and different stuff and travelling to different countries. Dad worked six days a week, including a late night on a Saturday which was when the farmers' wives came into shop.
"For dad, business was his life and that just permeated down the family."
He remembers how energised his dad was by a good day's work. "I saw from him that what you put in, you get out - so if you put in a hard day's work, you reap the reward yourself if you have your own business."
Paul's mother Margaret eventually gave up her job as a teacher to join the business.
Many of the company's 40 staff have been there a long time. It had enjoyed a normal start to the year in the run-up to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the company undergoing the usual buying process in February.
"Then March hit, and coming towards the middle of March, sales started to slow down quite dramatically. We had to reduce staffing costs but by the time all of that was to be implemented, things had come to a head. The government hadn't announced lockdown at that stage but I sat down with my brother Steven on the Friday and we made a decision that Monday would be our last day.
"But we didn't have time to feel heavy of heart about having to close as we had so much to do. We knew we'd have to provide a lot of information to the banks because cashflow would be very quickly impacted so we did a stock-take to see what we had - by that stage about 60 to 70% of our summer stock had been delivered."
To shift stock, the company is now running a 50% off summer sale - deeper than its usual discount of 30% off.
Happily, he says he feels the business has the support of people in the town. "People are really glad you're open again, and there's a real mentality around the need to support local traders. There are stacks of brilliant shops around our towns. And we have traded reasonably well since we reopened though we'll probably have to do a big discount sale in September."
Lockdown came at deep cost to the business but he feels there has been good help from government. "The government furlough scheme has been invaluable, and now we have a rates rebate for the rest of the year, which really helps."
He thinks the majority of suppliers will have enough stock to meet demand later in the year.
"Some suppliers are saying they'll be back to normal by the winter, other suppliers are cutting back on ranges because they don't think the winter season will be as good, others have been having problems with factories in China.
"We've been told by one supplier that a range of mugs, trays and plates that we usually have over Christmas won't be coming this year."
The company has taken out a £0.25m loan with Ulster Bank through the government's Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.
"We needed help because our cashflow dried up very quickly. A loan was vital to keep us trading. Our business was healthy and we were quickly able to prove that we would be able to repay the loan.
"Ulster Bank were very helpful. We were in a very lucky position because I know my own bank manager. She has been to the store and I know her by name, I have her number in my phone. She knows me and she knows the store layout so she really knew the problems the business would be having before we contacted her.
"The money was in our bank account within 30 days of lockdown and the decision was made by the bank very quickly."
He's now feeling reasonably optimistic, and says the business will continue to take advantage of the government's flexible furlough scheme until trade builds up. We now need to get back to the level of trade where we were pre-lockdown, and we foresee that we'll be back there by the end of October."
And he feels that he's been well-looked after by the government here and in the UK. "We have got a fair amount of support. But without the support there would have been a question mark over the future of the business. Initially we only got three months rates relief, compared to a year in England. But we lobbied our local politicians and they sorted it out and were in constant contact and very helpful.
"Our rates are probably about £8,000 a month so it's very helpful that we don't have that for the rest of the year."