Shop local: Green Street traders ‘lose millions’ as tourists stay home and parties are curbed
PUBLISHED: 07:00 28 October 2020
The drop in parties and international travel is taking its toll on a “prestige” street famous for its fashion, fabrics and food.
Green Street in Upton Park has been hailed as a go to destination for its diverse range of shops catering largely to Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani communities in the UK and Europe.
But with Covid-19 restrictions to travel and limits to the number of people who can gather for social occasions, the street’s 300 businesses are struggling. High rents, reduced parking and street infrastructure are also affecting trade.
Seema Sarfaraz, secretary of Green Street Traders’ Association, said there were issues before the pandemic, but the virus has only piled on more difficulties.
“The uncertainty of going or not going into lockdown doesn’t help businesses. We get a lot of customers from Germany, Holland, France. They would spend £5,000 to £10,000 a day. It’s big ticket shopping.
“All that has stopped. We’re losing out on that custom,” Seema said.
She estimated Green Street’s specialist “prestige” shops – known for being on top of the latest trends – have lost millions in trade because of the pandemic.
Better street lighting, a crackdown on anti-social behaviour, more eateries allowed to sell food off premises and a shuttle bus from Stratford when Upton Park station is closed would help revive Green Street’s fortunes, Seema added.
And shopkeepers up and down the route are being careful, following government guidance to protect customers.
Diljeet Singh, whose store Simran Collections, is closing down because of the pandemic, said: “It’s very bad. We don’t know what to do next. There is no custom. Parties, everything is cancelled.”
As with many of Green Street’s shopkeepers, Diljeet received support from the government.
However, with bills, wages and rent to pay at a time when people are scared to go out, business isn’t paying.
Festivals including Durga Puja, Diwali and Eid al-Fitr would usually see a bounce in sales, but this year may be different.
Jaz Singh, owner of ethnic jewellery shop New Guru Kripa, said: “We don’t know what to expect anymore. Business is up and down. Until there’s a vaccine there’s no way to predict. No parties will make a massive difference to sales. People don’t feel safe to come out. It’s very hard at the moment.”
He urged people to support their high streets, adding businesses would struggle in the long run without more help.
Mahbubur Rahman, speaking beside trays of irani chom chom, roshomalai and kala jam at his sweet shop, Banoful, has seen sales drop.
“Our products are mainly used at social gatherings. Because of the pandemic no one does social events, which means many [traders] are in a bad situation,” Mahbubur added.
Toy shop owner Murad Hossen said: “Business is dead.”
Jitendra Wani, owner of Geeta’s Childrenswear, which has traded since 1984, said he has never seen anything like it.
He urged the council to bring back parking bays, which were suspended during lockdown, and allow drivers an hour free.
The businessman agreed air quality is important, but added: “The virus is happening now. It’s the main concern at the moment.”
Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz, in an open letter to traders, said in the summer that the bays were removed to create more space so people can shop at a safe social distance in line with government demands.
Jitendra said the government is doing its best to support business, but suggested putting rates on hold for two years would help.
Kulsoom Jan, of Jan – which sells Islamic dresses, prayer mats and children’s clothes – said the business did not qualify for a government grant because of its size.
The family-run shop opened last autumn, but closed months later because of lockdown.
“Families are struggling because businesses are struggling,” Kulsoom said.
She added that while big businesses’ size meant they could survive, smaller firms couldn’t.
“No business starts off big. If you don’t support a small business, what makes you think it is going to get anywhere in the future?” she asked.
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