Omicron effect: Portsmouth businesses are hoping for more guidance and certainty in 2022 as trade gradually improves

BUSINESSES in Portsmouth are entering the new year feeling grateful and hopeful, despite the uncertainty surrounding Omicron over the Christmas period.

By Sophie Murray
Tuesday, 11th January 2022, 2:09 pm

Although the rising numbers of Omicron cases meant many people decided to celebrate the arrival of 2022 on a much smaller scale, many Portsmouth businesses are grateful that they were able to stay open for the remainder of 2021 to make up for the losses from the previous Christmas.

Despite the uncertainty of Covid restrictions leading to confusion and many Christmas parties being cancelled, businesses are trying to see the positives and are hoping for a better year in 2022.

James Wilson, general manager at The Vaults Southsea said that although Christmas was quieter, he’s started the new year being fairly busy with Christmas parties that had been postponed due to Omicron.

James Wilson, general manager of The Vaults, Southsea. Picture: Habibur Rahman

He said: ‘The biggest impact over December was probably the announcement of Plan B – within 48 hours we had over 100 cancellations. We’ve had a lot of bookings deferred until January which is good as we take a deposit for those larger bookings, so we always like to look at the silver lining.’

Agata Karpovic, general manager of Porters pub, said that the uncertainty surrounding Covid restrictions in the lead up to Christmas made it difficult to plan ahead.

She said: ‘It was really hard to plan because it was very unsettled, no-one knew whether a lockdown was going to happen or not so it was really hard to plan in terms of stocking everything, planning how many staff to have and things like that. It has been okay, we have lost a lot of business but we are grateful that Christmas could still go ahead.’

The retail industry also found the weeks leading up to Christmas difficult as even though shops were legally allowed to remain open, the uncertainty surrounding restrictions meant many customers opted for online shopping rather than facing the risks of shopping in person.

Pictured: Agata Karpovic of Porters pub, Southsea. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Jenni Catlow, owner of Tango Tea second-hand shop in Southsea, said that business was going well in the lead-up to Christmas, until the Plan B announcement.

She said: ‘When the government announced that things could be shut down again if the public didn’t behave, that ruined Christmas completely, but leading up to that things were very busy and bustling and people were happy to be out and for the most part being sensible.

‘With the government constantly changing tactics it just makes people very worried, and with the increase in energy prices people are worrying about that too, so we just have to hope that things will get better.’

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Pictured: Carmen Argint and Millie Battersby of Garage Lounge, Southsea. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Shaun Palmer and Pip Harris who run Room 237 comic book shop said they have ‘survived but haven’t thrived’, with business a long way from being back to normal compared to their usual trade.

Shaun said: ‘Saturdays have not turned back to the way they were, we don’t really have the foot traffic that we’re used to and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon sadly, people don’t really have a lot of confidence to go out because they don’t know what’s happening.

‘Also the stopping and starting and the uncertainty hasn’t helped, we’ve ended up with a lot of stock with a very short life span as they’re all periodical comic books.’

The Garage Lounge and B the Barbers in Southsea, both said they are grateful that support from their loyal customers has meant that trade hasn’t been too badly affected.

Southsea Inks, Southsea. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Millie Battersby who works at The Garage Lounge said in the last few months business has been affected, but customer support has meant that it’s been fairly steady.

She said: ‘Luckily at the Garage Lounge we’re quite popular anyway, so I don’t think there’s been too much of a change but obviously the pandemic has had a big impact on hospitality. They used to have maybe 10 or 20 people waiting at a time, but now it’s maybe two or three tables waiting at a time when it’s really busy.’

Bob Moussa, owner of B the B Barbers, is celebrating his 21st year on Albert Road and said that he has relied on his regular customers who have kept him going.

He said: ‘It was a little bit down before Christmas but not much, but to be honest I don’t feel like I’ve been affected at all because I’ve got my regular customers still coming in and everything has been going alright. Apart from that I’m feeling settled, confident and happy with the way I’ve been doing it and that’s why I’ve lasted these 20 years.’

Coming into the new year most businesses agreed that January is a quiet month regardless of the pandemic, so it’s difficult to tell whether or not the knock on effects from Christmas have impacted the start of 2022.

Andy Benn, owner of Southsea Inks office supplies and repair shop, said his trade has definitely been affected by Omicron but looking at the bigger picture things are looking more positive than they have been.

Bob Moussa of B the B Barbers. Picture: Habibur Rahman

He said: ‘Overall my sales from the last year are probably down around 30 per cent compared to normal, but compared to other points in the pandemic it’s probably slightly up.

‘Everyone’s been really good with wearing masks and for this year we’re just looking for guidance and for everyone to keep safe so we can get back to normal.’

(L-R) Pip Harris and Shaun Palmer of comic shop 'Room 237'. Picture: Duncan Shepherd
Jenni Catlow of Tango Tea in Albert Road, Southsea