Lockdown lifting: Non-essential shop owners remain hopeful of a swift reopening - or else many say they can't see a future

AS COVID-19 has spread rapidly across the country, the government took action to control the spread of the virus.

By Kimberley Barber
Thursday, 18th February 2021, 11:00 am
Updated Saturday, 20th February 2021, 7:56 am

To encourage us all to stay home, and to reduce social contact, businesses were divided up into essential or non-essential depending on the goods and services they sold.

Non-essential businesses were forced to close.

While there has been some amendments to what counts as essential across the three lockdowns, many shops, especially those that do not sell food, have had to move their business away from their bricks and mortar stores, and operate online instead.

Karen Hall, from Karen George in Emsworth

Now all eyes are on the Prime Minister’s announcement on February 22, where he will set out a roadmap of how the UK can reopen, and business owners are hoping and praying that he will relax restrictions.

It is believed that non-essential shops will be in the second stage of openings, following schools, if the transmission rate remains low, however this can’t come quickly enough for some firms who are struggling to stay in business.

For business owner Alex Dutton, who set up shop Party & Print in Fratton in December, it’s been a frustrating time.

Alex and his business partner Vicki Lackenby set up the shop selling T-shirts and print services after their events business work dried up.

Alex Dutton (31) and his business partner Victoria Lackenby (33) at their new shop Party and Print at the Bridge Shopping Centre in Fratton. Picture: Sarah Standing (210121-1411)

However, after a very short spell open, and with the planned launch party on ice, they have only been able to open for click and collect services.

Now the pair are champing at the bit to open properly and get back to a normal way of life.

He said: ‘Being a non essential business is hard in the current climate. I think I can speak for most people when I say we can't wait to get back to a “normal” way of life and to once again being able to grow again instead of just covering cost and ticking over

‘In the short term I would love to see non essential business open so we can start getting people back to the shopping areas of Portsmouth.

Matt Crick, manager at Victoriana. Picture: Chris Moorhouse (051220-18)

‘People need confidence again to be able to walk down their local high street and support local shops and business instead of just shopping online.

‘If they don't open us it will feel like another set back to a very stressful 12 months.’

Matt Crick, who runs furniture store Victoriana in Southsea, said that times have been tough and that extensions to business support schemes were needed to help businesses like his survive.

He said: ‘We’d ideally like the business to be open as soon as possible when the experts feel it’s safe to do so.

‘It’s been a very hard few months during lockdown for most businesses out there and Victoriana is no exception. I think all businesses would benefit with extensions to the business rate relief and furlough schemes at least until late summer 2021.

‘We have provided a click and collect service, as well as our usual online service throughout lockdown but business is still significantly down on previous years due to the fact a lot of our customers want to look at furniture, in store, before they buy it. This obviously hasn’t been possible during lockdown.

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‘We can’t wait to reopen and have been busy changing the furniture displays in the shop and cleaning, ready for when we can. Hopefully we’ll be able to open sometime in March and if we can’t then we can only hope that the government will provide further support for small businesses until we are able to open up again.’

It’s not just physical shops that have been affected by the enforced closures.

John Dyer, from Sirius Concepts, a interior design and refurbishment company in Havant, said his business has suffered, as have others who rely on the hospitality industry for work.

He said: ‘Hospitality and non essential retail have had an incredibly tough time, you don't need me to expand on that, however what I feel has been forgotten during the pandemic are the businesses that supply hospitality or non-essential retail.

‘They have been affected just as badly, if not worse than their clients.

‘Industries such as food and beverage wholesalers, printers and sign makers, interior designers, refurbishment firms, cleaners and PR companies to name but a few will have hospitality based clients and are hugely affected due to everything being closed, but do not necessarily have the same level of support as their clients.

‘This is an area I feel needs highlighting. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big supporter of what our government has done during the pandemic both in business support and indeed healthcare, but I feel the ‘forgotten’ businesses linked to hospitality need some more awareness and support.

‘My business had to quickly adapt to survive. Instead of undertaking interior design and refurbishments for our hotel and restaurant clients, we were making acrylic safety screens for till points and reception desks. It got us through the worst times last year and now, over the last month there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel for my hospitality clients.

‘I’m receiving many emails about wanting to refurbish areas of hotels, bars and outdoor dining and drinking areas ready for the big reopening of the industry, which, at the time of writing is looking like this May.’

Clothing shops are also among the businesses that have been hit hard by the rules, with shoppers moving in their droves to online stores or supermarkets.

Big name brands such as Dorothy Perkins, Topshop, Wallis and Debenhams, have all gone from our high streets over the past few months - and the situation for high streets looks bleak.

Karen Hall, who runs Karen George Boutique in Emsworth, said it has been a frustrating time.

She said: ‘Being a non-essential bricks and mortar shop it has been both frustrating and frightening. For a small independent, I genuinely worried whether the business would survive this third lockdown.’

She said that by turning her attention to online trade, and building up social media followings, she has been able to tick over, but the uncertainty is making it hard to plan ahead and order stock for the changing seasons.

She said: ‘It is a difficult time at the moment. What I think has been really unfair is that other larger stores have been able to continue selling clothing and footwear because they also sell food, which is, of course, essential.

‘I was furious and felt very strongly that they should have had to section off their non-essential products!

‘How can that be fair to small independents who may well be stuck with seasonal stock which they have been unable to clear?

‘It has been such a worry - how to meet my rent, light and heat, pay the staff and my suppliers.’

Karen said government support schemes, like the furlough scheme, have been a lifeline, but she is desperate to get back to work properly.

However, she said they would still be taking precautions, such as using hand sanitiser, restricting numbers of people in her shop and wearing face masks.

She added: ‘As desperate as I am to get the shop open again, we have to be safe.

‘We are nothing without our health and this pandemic has taken too many lives already.

‘I think it is inevitable that the schools will return in March as originally planned, and I believe and hope, it will be a gradual re-opening of businesses in the order in which they were closed.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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