Simcha firms say next six months ‘is just about staying alive’

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Simcha firms say next six months ‘is just about staying alive’

Following raft of new restrictions to limit spread of coronavirus, community members in the events and hospitality industry share concerns over cash flow, refunds and job losses

Simcha time! (Blake Ezra Photography)
Simcha time! (Blake Ezra Photography)

Firms supporting Jewish functions and celebrations have said the next six months “is about staying alive” after Boris Johnson tightened Covid-19 restrictions to deal with rapidly rising infection rates.

Vocal concern from a plethora of companies about cashflow and refund demands came as the chief executive of United Synagogue warned that the new limits could threaten hundreds of jobs.

“Restrictions have been tight and affected the whole hospitality and events industry since March, but the new restrictions have squeezed it tighter,” said Ben Tenenblat, who runs a kosher catering company.

“It’s affected us badly in terms of business. For most, 15 people is not a dream wedding. Many are just holding off. They’re hesitant to book because things are changing daily, not just week-to-week. Most of our bookings have moved into 2021.”

He said most customers were showing loyalty and that “the business is there” but in the interim it has required an about-turn in what his company offers. “From Day 1, overnight, we adapted from a caterer to almost a food retailer, adapting the website.”

Tenenblat said it “lets us tick through,” adding: “Now we’re looking at another six months of it. Adapting is the only way to go. Cashflow is a major issue, but we’ll get through it. It won’t be easy, but we’ll stay alive so that we can fulfil our customers’ contracts when we get round to being able to do it.”

Samantha Kingsley at the north-west London events space N20 said: “It’s been terrible in the events industry, so heart-breaking to see people who have built up their businesses, but the amount of support for each other has been mind-blowing.”

She said: “No-one wants each other to go bust. I’ve been calling up other venues that are in competition with me, the DJs are all checking in on each other… Everyone has been so supportive because some people are in a really bad way.”

Like Tenenblat, she said she was determined to survive. “Remember, this isn’t life. Nobody wants to see life without functions and celebrations. It gives meaning. It makes you realise how important what we do is. Morale out there is terrible.”

With risk assessments and adaptations, Kingsley said her business was ready to go the second it gets a green light, saying: “Now it’s just a waiting game.”

When asked what the community could do to help firms like hers, she said a bit of kindness when it came to refunds as these were not always possible, given that cashflow is a huge headache across the board.

“It doesn’t look like the government are going to be provide anything more, so we’ll all do what we have to do, but I’m not going anywhere,” she said.

“I have an amazing business with wonderful clients, and we’re ready to do what we can when we can, but clients and suppliers all need to be kind to one another, because it’s not easy out there – we have huge rents and rates to pay. People would be shocked to know what it costs to run a venue.”

Adam Ziff, owner of pop-up drinking establishment Suburban Whisky Lounge in Hampstead, said businesses such as his would be affected by the new 10pm curfew in bars and restaurants.

“That one hour reduces our takings by up to 20 percent,” he said. “Does it affect us? Yes. Will it put us out of business? We’re a pop-up, so unlike other bars and restaurants that are tied into long leases and fixed overheads, we have a lot more flexibility.

“If it affects us so much that we have to close the doors, we can always reopen once the environment changes.”

He added: “Like any small business, we have had to adapt and overcome. You have to play the cards you are dealt. But it’s not nice. I can see why the government’s doing it, but it feels like we’re trying to put a Band-Aid over a life-threatening wound.”

Asked about the new limit of 15 people for weddings, United Synagogue chief executive Dr Steven Wilson said that whilst reducing infection rates was important, the new restrictions “will nevertheless make a difficult situation even more difficult”.

He said: “Many couples already postponed their wedding once in the hope that they could marry this winter. The new limit will make it even harder.

“Our caterers and restaurateurs have had a very challenging time over the summer and we know the PM’s announcement will affect the livelihoods of hundreds of people KLBD licensees employ.

“We empathise in these extraordinarily difficult times and hope and pray that the New Year will bring an end to affliction and adversity.”



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