Shop Local: ‘Use us or lose us’ say struggling independent Islington traders
PUBLISHED: 08:19 22 October 2020 | UPDATED: 10:53 04 November 2020
Islington Gazette reporters Naomi Clarke, Daniel Fessahaye and Poppy Koronka hit the Upper Street area to survey 20 independent businesses as part of a new Shop Local campaign designed to get residents supporting the high street.
Half of the independent shops surveyed around Upper Street are in a worse trading position than before the pandemic, and many fear their businesses could go under if things don’t pick up over Christmas.
Every one of the 20 traders the Gazette spoke to emphasised how vital local support is for our high streets, and support this paper’s campaign to encourage everyone to Shop Local.
We are calling on our readers to back traders like Christopher Moss, owner of leather bag shop Bags of Moss in Islington High Street, who has warned “if people stil want shops like us on the high street once things go back to normal, they need to use us before we start rethinking our lives”.
More than half of the shops we surveyed have found footfall to be slow since reopening after the coronavirus lockdown and as the crucial Christmas season looms – and some of those might have to consider closing for good if things do not pick up in the next six months.
Nicola Adams, manager of independent lingerie shop Tallulah, called the situation “absolutely soul destroying”.
The Cross Street boutique which opened 17 years ago was given a three-month rental holiday during lockdown and received a government grant, but takings are down.
“I don’t know quite how much down. I don’t really want to look into that yet,” said Nicola, who is sceptical things will pick up for Christmas - the season when retailers usually make their profit.
“It makes me feel sick when I think about it,” she said, “One day it’s really good. Some far less so. It has been incredibly difficult.”
Sales at the delicatessen, artisan cheese shop and cafe Pistachio & Pickle in Camden Passage are down by 30 to 40 per cent since pre-lockdown.
Owner Steven Cooper, 46, can only cite the devastation caused by a burst water main in 2016, which shut his business for six months, as a comparable knock.
“The insurance kicked in then, but not many are paying out now over loss of sales in the pandemic,” said Steven, who has managed to retain both of his two staff only thanks to the government’s furlough scheme.
“There has been no one around. Mostly because there are no office workers in the area, people working at home, we’re not getting the footfall that we’re used to along here.
“Locals are coming in, but it’s the tourists which have had a big impact.
“Right now there is so much uncertainty - how long is this going to go on for? Will I be able to afford to keep my staff on?”
Steven, who now takes online orders for local delivery, told this paper: “I would really like people to know that I’m here, and that I’m supporting local businesses.
“Almost all of my cheeses are British so I’m supporting British farmers and British suppliers. I’m trying to keep the flag waving.”
Annie Moss, who has been running her iconic vintage clothing boutique Annie’s in Camden Passage for 46 years, has found it really tough because she had to pay rent throughout lockdown.
She “wouldn’t still be here now” if it were not for a grant of £25,000 and business rates reduction. She remains hopeful things will pick up in time for Christmas, but added: “I’ve got my loyal customers but they haven’t quite got the money they used to.”
Although sales are similar to this time last year at Rains Store in Upper Street, which sells waterproof gear, manager Andrius Valkauskas is concerned about the prospect of another lockdown.
“We had a big rush of sales in October because of the rain, and we are really trying to maximise on that,” he said.
“If people don’t travel as much for Christmas, and because some people might have lost their jobs, they might not buy as many presents, so festive trading is difficult to predict, but of course we are worried.
“It’s a very real risk we could go under. It’s uncertain at the moment and we will see in the next month how it plays out.
“Keep us open - it’s a local business,” he pleaded.
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Designer and tailor Charlie Allen, who owns Charlie Allen Bespoke in Cooper’s Yard, relies on weddings for 80pc of his business.
“I don’t need to tell you how bad it is,” he said. “It’s 40pc on what we were last year. Classic clothing is an investment buy, and a lot of our customers work in the city and aren’t going in to work.
“We are getting by. Next year will be fantastic if all the weddings go ahead, but what will happen is anyone’s guess.”
Charlie employs three staff and has been running the shop for 20 years, but said if nothing changes, he will have to work from home and visit his customers for fittings.
“I’ll survive but not with the business in its current form,” he said.
“I had a rent reduction for a few months, but now it’s back to normal so this is the real test. If this goes on another four months, the business won’t be viable.”
‘It has been brutal’
An Islington leather bag shop has seen takings drop by a third compared to this time last year.
Christoper Moss of leather bag shop Bags of Moss in Islington High Street will have to decide in the next six months if he calls it a day on the business he has run for the past 16 years.
“Of course it is detrimental,” he told the Gazette. Christopher had to furlough staff and at present it is cheaper to be closed at weekends than pay wages.
After bills, rent and wages, there is often nothing left at the end of each month to pay himself and the next six months will be crucial.
“We have no tourists, we have no out-of-towners, so we are almost completely reliant on our local base,” he said.
“I sell leather bags and because they are quality products, we don’t have repeat custom.
“If you are selling hardware or food then you’re doing great but the way the roulette has worked is certain products are non-Covid.
“But then if people still want shops like us on the high street they need to use us before we start rethinking our lives,” he warned.
“Once we go back to normal, if people want to have the independent shops that are struggling to sell a product that is currently not viable, they are going to have to use them now.”
After lockdown trade was “very slow”, but by September he was up to 40 to 50pc of his usual takings. But then the new wave of restrictions began.
“Not that I’m objecting to them,” he added. “But if no one is going to dinner or a wedding or to the office or travelling, why would they need a new leather bag?”
He urged customers to follow a flow chart when making purchases.
“First is thinking of the environment, and do I really need it? Secondly, can I get it on my high street? And if I can’t get it from an independent shop on the high street, the last question is, do I need it enough to sanction international tax avoidance, delocalising the economy and defunding public services?”
He pointed out Brexit is looming and supply chains are struggling: “The pandemic has shown what a real apocalyptic economic crash really looks like. We are really seeing now what Mother Nature can do, and what we need is more robust economies.”
Highlight a local business as part of the Gazette’s Shop Local campaign by getting in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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