Shop Local: Second lockdown could signal the final death knell for some Islington businesses, warn traders

Chapel Market, from the junction with Baron St towards Penton St. Picture: Polly Hancock

Chapel Market, from the junction with Baron St towards Penton St. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Traders in Islington have expressed concern about the new Covid-19 lockdown, and some fear it could signal the final death knell for their businesses.

Hak Huseyin. Picture: Hak Huseyin

Hak Huseyin. Picture: Hak Huseyin - Credit: Archant

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new pandemic measures on Saturday following a steep rise in coronavirus infections and fears hospitals would otherwise be overrun.

The nationwide restrictions mean all non-essential shops must close from today until at least December 2, affecting a crucial trading period in the lead up to Christmas.

Speaking to the Gazette as part of a Shop Local campaign, Hak Huseyin, chair of Islington Chamber of Commerce and a partner at Absolute Print in Junction Road, Archway, said: “First and foremost it’s safety first, and as much as the lockdown is going to cripple those of us who are already on the edge, it’s not going to kill us - but we are asking for help to get us through it.

“The support the government showed us last time with £25,000 grants helped us get over the issue of how we were going to pay our suppliers, how we were going to pay our staff, and the furlough scheme coming back in is great.

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“But how we are going to pay the electrics and the gas and the rent now is a different matter.”

In the past few days, Hak’s staff have been doing “a lot of work behind the scenes” to gear up for a click-and-collect system to take orders online or over the phone.

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“A lot of us are adapting while we can,” he said,

“We can’t stay still - but we do expect support from the government.”

The government’s furlough scheme, which pays 80 per cent of workers’ salaries up to £2,500, has been extended until December 2.

But Hak criticised the £500 weekly grant offered to businesses with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000, which would apply to most small traders in Islington.

“Our rent is £60,000 a year so when someone is giving you £500 a week, that doesn’t cover the rent or the national insurance,” said Hak.

“It’s not like we are sitting here waiting for a hand out but businesses in Islington and throughout the UK are a valued part of the community, and everyone tries to employ local - we employ nine staff and seven of them walk to work.

“It’s great we are keeping our staff through furlough, but if we are keeping our staff we need to keep our business. Without more support we will find (businesses) go the way of the dodo.

“We’ve been here 25 years and we’ve been through two major recessions, and we got through those, but this is a never-ending story unfortunately at the moment.

“It would have been better if the government had done it over half term as it’s a dead period. Some of us were even expecting a lockdown over that time but unfortunately that didn’t happen and we are going to lose business in this month, which we don’t think is going to be a month, and could pretty much write off the whole year - so it’s whether or not we can survive.”

Keith Thomas, owner of Bartlett’s Hi-Fi and home cinema store in Holloway Road, is most worried the lockdown is coming at his firm’s “prime selling period”.

“Obviously, this second one has more of a finite term to it, whereas before it was a longer period, but for us the first one took us through the quieter months anyway,” he said.

“This one is leading up to Christmas and it’s ok if we do come back at the beginning of December, then we will pick up some of the business - but what if we don’t?”

The shop sells goods online and on eBay, and Keith hopes that will see them through.

“‘Ticking over’ is the phrase to use really,” he said.

“It’s an existence rather than anything else. You are literally taking the money, paying the bills and not taking a profit.”

Kalina Georgieva, who has run Kalina Bridal Boutique in Chapel Market for five years, fears a second lockdown will finish her business off.

“All businesses will be affected, but especially bridal wear,” she said.

“We are suffering the most out of all businesses.

“Weddings aren’t taking place, or we have weddings with just seven or 15 people and that is ridiculous.

“Even if we get on schedule for 2022, it means people don’t buy until 2022.

“Sometimes we don’t have any trade for a week or more, and with another lockdown that will be the final thing that will finish the business off.

“I feel very unhappy. It’s horrible.”

Cliff Tan, manager of Twentytwentyone in Upper Street, which sells home furnishings and gifts, is more hopeful.

The shop, which has been operating since 1996, also sells goods online and didn’t do too badly during the last lockdown, when many people focused on home improvements.

“I was a bit shocked about there being another lockdown,” he said.

“We put a lot of effort to start the shop running again and bring it back, so it’s a pity to stop it so soon.

“Everyone had put in effort to make the shop look nice and we introduced extra precautions, like sanitising and distancing, and to give the customers as much attention as we can - but what can you do.

“We are hopeful to get trade online. We just need to refocus.”

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