Local high streets and the small independent businesses that adorn them have been left in a precarious position by the latest lockdown measures, at a time that should be their most lucrative of the year.
Shops, salons and restaurants alike enjoyed some respite after the nationwide lockdown was lifted in the summer, but their forced closure as the holiday season approaches is yet another huge blow. So how will they cope? Candice Krieger asks a selection of independent businesses what the future might hold.
Cohens Jewellers is in Temple Fortune, north-west London, run by brother and sister Robert Cohen and Natalie Werter. It rebranded this year as part of its 50th anniversary.
Robert Cohen: “We are so upset about having to lockdown again. While the government support has gone some way to helping, being closed for four to five months of the year is going to drastically affect any business. We took necessary measures to become Covid-secure and provide a safe environment for our staff and customers; it’s a shame these measures haven’t allowed non-essential shops to remain open.
“Since we reopened in June, we had been busier than we expected, possibly as fewer people were away over the summer, but things slowed down prior to the second lockdown and as we approach Chanukah and Christmas – traditionally the busiest part of our year – the impact of closing will be harder felt.
“All small businesses will find it increasingly harder to continue the longer lockdown goes on. January and February are traditionally the quietest months for many retailers, so opening then is going to feel particularly tough. We have a very strong and loyal customer base and hope that once we reopen, business will return to normal again without any further interruptions.
“This year, we celebrate 50 years on the high street and have an exciting celebratory promotion launching when we are able to reopen to reward our customers for their patronage over the years.”
“The first round of financial support was helpful and although this time the furlough scheme has been extended to March, we hope that we are open again in December and able to bring our staff back to work.”
Founded 46 years ago by Yvonne Lasky, Cream is a family-run trendy fashion boutique in Stanmore, Middlesex. It is now run by Yvonne and her daughters, Hayley and Michelle.
Yvonne Lasky: “We did expect this lockdown. We were not sure about when it was going to happen, but we thought it may do given the rising rate of infection in October.
“We understand that the government is in a horrible situation. It has a responsibility to protect people’s health while at the same time propping up the economy.
“It has affected retail. Sadly, people can’t come into the shop, but we have tried to be progressive with our thinking by really developing our online presence. We built a website in the last lockdown and also have regular ‘live’ shows on Instagram, where we show our latest deliveries and will continue with our live Instagram shows so hopefully things will be ok.
“We hope we will be able to cope if lockdown continues much beyond December. We’ve been open for 46 years and have a very loyal customer base, so we hope they will still need clothes.
“We love our customers. They see us not only as a provider of the most up-to-date styles and fashion, but a place they can come and socialise.
“We worry, of course, about what the future brings, but we hope we will be around to serve our customers for many years to come!
“I think the government did a fantastic job during the first lockdown to try to keep businesses like ours alive, but we need continued support as we still have full rent to pay with no help from the landlord.
“We know these are tough times and we know it may get worse before it gets better. One of our aims is to try to keep people smiling, optimistic and looking good, whether we are in the shop or not!
“We know we are privileged to still have jobs, as so many people in the country are struggling and suffering, so with our live shows we try to make them light and entertaining for people.”
KINK HAIR SALON
Theo Silveston founded Kink hair salon in Mill Hill, north-west London, in 2007.
Theo Silveston: “I think most business owners expected this lockdown after the tiers were brought in. It seemed like the only way it was going to go. I believe the government is doing what it feels is best. It’s a difficult decision with Covid cases rising but, at the same time, it’s a shame for small businesses that have followed all government guide lines and [bought] PPE so we can operate safely to then have to close anyway.
“It can’t be good to close for any period of time for any business. We have a large loyal clientele but, at the same time, we don’t really want to put that to the test.
“Many clients will realise they can get by without going to the hairdressers as often as they have been. Our regular weekly clients are out bread and butter and the previous lockdown has already affected that long-term.
“I believe if we keep a positive attitude towards our career and do what we can to make our service and experience the best possible [or our clients], we can retain our business to a certain level. We need to apply ourselves
100 percent all the time to keep our business going. It also depends on the support we get from the government.
“At the moment, I don’t think the government has provided enough financial support to small businesses. Rent and rates continue, but our business does not. We are now having to contribute towards pensions and national insurance with no income. Small businesses will suffer from this lockdown and I hope every small business can manage to find a way to stay open and get through this unprecedented time. There’s always hope.
“If people continue to work from home post-lockdowns, this could be a positive for local businesses. As a salon, we have and will always do, what we can to make sure our clients have the best experience possible and do our best to make them happy. After all, their hair is their crowning glory and plays a big part in how we feel about ourselves.”
Elliott Goldstein is managing partner at The MBS Group, a leading executive search and leadership advisory firm working across all consumer-facing industries. Clients include M&S, Sainsbury’s, The Body Shop, The Co-operative, Greene King, Kurt Geiger and Costa Coffee.
He says: “November and December are the core trading months for retail and hospitality – in short, they are when most businesses generate the majority of their annual profits.
“The latest lockdown is therefore devastating for the non-essential retail and hospitality sector – and much more restrictive than the sector was expecting.
“Businesses that were allowed to trade safely towards the end of the last lockdown – and which have invested heavily in Covid-19 safety materials – have been told this time to stay shut.
“Most retail and hospitality businesses are trying to rapidly pivot to digital sales – indeed, one hospitality CEO with whom I spoke last week told me that their take-away and delivery sales were up nearly 500 percent
pre-lockdown levels. However, of course, some shops simply can’t offer their products and services online.
“Most retailers have tied up all their cash in stock for the festive season – so they will be making every effort to sell through their stock before the end of the calendar year. I expect consumers will benefit from a wave of discounting and promotional activity, assuming stores can open in early December.
“Independent stores are finding this period particularly challenging. They simply don’t have access to cash or debt in the way larger businesses do.”
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