Portsmouth shops hit out at The Range, CarpetRight and other chains for 'profiting from coronavirus'
CLOSED independent stores across Portsmouth are demanding a level playing field with national competitors ‘profiting from coronavirus’, with owners fearing for their livelihoods and their mental health during the national lockdown.
This week saw Bira, a trade association representing 3,000 independent retailers, hit out at large homeware stores and supermarkets for still selling non-essential items that normally make up a large part of the now-closed independents’ sales.
Now, businesses across Portsmouth are calling for the government to do more to support them – as shops that have been open for decades fear they will stay closed for good.
Brian and Ann Salt have run Fratton Model Centre in Fratton Road for more than 30 years, and the pair are trying to keep the business alive with a click and collect service – but their usual pre-Christmas trade has disappeared while supermarkets continue to sell toys and games.
Ann said: 'We're taking about £100 this week.
'This time last year, it would be more like £1,000.
‘We are absolutely outraged – we think it should be like Wales, where shops cannot sell non-essential items.
'It feels like they are trying to shut us down.’
During Wales's two-week 'fire break' lockdown, supermarkets and stores cordoned off and barred the sale of non-essential items.
With the current lockdown rules allowing essential supermarkets and chains to sell non-essential items, ‘it’s not worth us being here,’ Brian added.
He said: ‘It really isn't. We have virtually no trade at all.
‘Christmas time is the period when people like us make 90 per cent of their profit.
‘But we won't make anything.’
With supermarkets like Sainsbury’s and Asda stocking not just food but toys and clothes, small businesses face a ‘very unfair’ situation that threatens jobs across the city, according to Caroline Adams, who has managed the Strawberry Lemonade clothes boutique in Copnor Road for the last seven years.
She said: ‘This is our busiest time of year – and we are losing thousands and thousands of pounds.
‘We are just managing to hold on to our jobs.’
Independent businesses ‘just want to be able to compete’ with their bigger rivals, according to Caroline.
She added: ‘I think allowing us to be open would be better, maybe with reduced opening hours.
‘Maybe we could only have appointments.’
While businesses can continue to offer click and collect services, as well as deliveries, many smaller firms have not been built to run off online orders alone.
Lee Cross, who has owned The Furniture Factory in London Road for more than 15 years, said: ‘A lot of us small businesses are not set up for dealing with lots of online orders.
‘We're still allowed to make deliveries, so I cannot furlough my staff, as I need them here.’
‘It is annoying, because as we are a furniture store we don’t have ten sets of customers in at once.
‘We could handle having customers inside the store.
‘It's not clear whether I can let people in to the store for appointments.’
The owner of Crofton Cane Furniture in Stubbington Lane hit out at CarpetRight for initially leaving its stores open, before restricting service to appointments-only on Wednesday.
And watching other businesses continue to greet customers while her own business – which her father set up more than 20 years ago – sees next to no online orders has not been easy for the furniture store owner.
Rebecca Burke, who has lived in Stubbington for more than 30 years, said: ‘The furniture I sell is available in garden centres - it's definitely paved the way for unfair competition.
‘I have had to close my business, and I’m more than happy to follow along.
‘But it hasn’t been good for me being stuck at home for my mental health - I want to be on (on the shop floor), earning money.
‘Big retailers seem to be profiting out of coronavirus.
‘Mentally, I have been quiet depressed not being able to go to work.’
The owner of a baby and children’s clothing shop Chantelle’s Originals, based in Elm Grove for 38 years, agreed that the uphill struggle to generate trade was having a draining effect.
The businesswoman said: ‘I think to myself, “what is the point of doing it any more”.
‘It seems that no one cares. It’s just futile.’
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A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron