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Shop local: Call to support small businesses in Stratford as they battle to survive pandemic

PUBLISHED: 07:00 21 October 2020

Tyrone Brown-Shakespeare is the assistant manager at Market Village. Visit @StratfordMVC on Facebook. Picture: Jon King

Tyrone Brown-Shakespeare is the assistant manager at Market Village. Visit @StratfordMVC on Facebook. Picture: Jon King

Archant

Christmas could make the difference between life and death for independent businesses battling to survive the coronavirus pandemic.

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But we can all help by extending the community spirit we have shown throughout lockdown, and supporting our local, independent shops.

Independent business owners fear the pandemic could force them to close. Of those which responded to our questionnaire, all but one expects takings to be down a lot this Christmas.

The Recorder today launches its Shop Local campaign to support our struggling high streets.

East Ham MP Stephen Timms and West Ham MP Lyn Brown are backing the borough’s businesses.

Mr Timms said: “This has been a tough year in Newham and for many it has been very tough indeed. There has been a massive community response, supporting families in the greatest difficulty. Local businesses ave played their part and I hope we will all be supporting Newham independent businesses in the run-up to Christmas.”

Ms Brown added: “Our small businesses are the life blood of our community and I know just how much businesses and business owners are struggling.

Market Village has seen seven traders pack up as a result of the coronavirus. Picture: Jon KingMarket Village has seen seven traders pack up as a result of the coronavirus. Picture: Jon King

“I know I don’t need to convince anyone of the amazing quality of our shops and businesses, but it has never been more important to continue to lend them our support.”

In Stratford, one of Newham’s key shopping destinations, hundreds of stalls, shops and eateries are hoping this festive season will see people come out to support jobs and the local economy.

Seven traders at Market Village in the Stratford Centre have shut since the virus struck. There are fears more could follow.

Assistant manager, Tyrone Brown-Shakespeare said: “It’s going to be hard for the nation this Christmas. People are really struggling.”

But he was clear that independent traders offer a service which is second to none.

“Local traders have a personal touch. They make you feel welcome. There’s a family feel,” Tyrone said.

L-R: Aurelija Ruzgiene and Samanta Matuleviciuje of AG Bridal in The Grove. Visit agbridal.co.uk Picture: Jon KingL-R: Aurelija Ruzgiene and Samanta Matuleviciuje of AG Bridal in The Grove. Visit agbridal.co.uk Picture: Jon King

Gift Gallery worker, Das Biplop, said Christmas in a normal year should see business booming but this year people are scared to venture out.

“I don’t think the business will be here next year,” Das said.

It was a chilling warning echoed by independent businesses across Stratford.

AG Bridal owner Aurelija Ruzgiene, who has ploughed hundreds of thousands of pounds into the business, said: “We will be dead in half a year without changes to the Covid rules.”

Demand for dresses has slumped with couples putting off their big day because of limits to guest numbers.

“Without government help, we will shut down. Where do we go from here? How do we pay our rent?” Aurelija asked.

Ye Olde Black Bull's Michael Fetton with son Richard. Picture: Jon KingYe Olde Black Bull's Michael Fetton with son Richard. Picture: Jon King

It’s not just retailers who are hoping Christmas will bring in more customers, but pubs, bars, restaurants, cafés and take aways.

On supporting high streets, Michael Fetton, who has been behind the bar at Ye Olde Black Bull for 33 years, said: “We should look after where we live.”

Mike Hulbert, owner of The Escape bar in West Ham Lane, said without Christmas and New Year’s Eve trade the sector will be badly hit.

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He added a downturn won’t hurt his business irreparably, but would cause a lot of stress.

Mexicasa manager, Nadine Harrak, said: “For me, and most small businesses in the restaurant industry, it’s Christmas that is my biggest fear.”

L-R: Hua Hua, Nadine Harrak and Emaan El Harrak from Mexicasa in Stratford High Street. Follow online @mexicasa377. Picture: Jon KingL-R: Hua Hua, Nadine Harrak and Emaan El Harrak from Mexicasa in Stratford High Street. Follow online @mexicasa377. Picture: Jon King

She explained how Christmas profits usually bolster firms in the January lull.

“We are probably better off shutting and the government helping us. I have people relying on me. [For workers] going on benefits is more stable,” she suggested.

Eat out to help out boosted trade in August, but for some Stratford eateries September was hard.

Scaremongering over Covid-19 and mixed messaging is proving for some to be detrimental to consumer confidence. Purse strings are tightening too with some people spending only on essentials.

As with many business owners the Recorder spoke to, Mexicasa has an online presence, offering deliveries to boost trade.

Ifratelli in Tramway Avenue, a family run firm in business since 1966, does the same.

Denys Kucher and Irina Kotsa at Sawmill. Find them online @CafeSawmill. Picture: Jon KingDenys Kucher and Irina Kotsa at Sawmill. Find them online @CafeSawmill. Picture: Jon King

The next few months are a crucial period for the fish and chip shop with customer numbers usually high over the winter.

On the situation now, owner Tony Zeolla said: “It’s unpredictable.”

Like Ifratelli, nearby café Sawmill has seen customer numbers drop on weekdays with Stratford’s office workers based at home.

The number of people coming through the door has halved. Christmas usually adds up to 50 per cent more in a normal year, worker Irina Kotsa said.

“Christmas trade is important. Before we could have Christmas parties here. We can’t any more,” Irina said.

Sawmill remained open during full lockdown, offering takes aways and deliveries, but without enough hours, most staff were laid off.

Vincento Dulepa of XIX Nineteen in the High Street. Picture: Jon KingVincento Dulepa of XIX Nineteen in the High Street. Picture: Jon King

“It was not easy, definitely,” Irina said.

Most of the businesses the Recorder spoke to received help during full lockdown in the form of grants, loans and furlough payments. Some are now playing catch up to make enough money to stay afloat as help is reduced.

They are all supported by the Stratford Original business improvement district (BID).

XIX Nineteen manager Vincento Dulepa said the High Street based restaurant was not entitled to government support. Instead the owners pumped thousands of their own money in to keep going.

“Support local business and we will never give up. We just need more customers,” Vincento said.

BID manager, Gianluca Rizzo, said: “Stratford shops and businesses have quickly adapted to the new normal by introducing covid secure measures to ensure staff members, shoppers and visitors are kept safe whilst in Stratford.

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“They have done their bit, now we are hoping that our communities of residents and consumers can do their bit by supporting our Stratford businesses.”

Next week we will be focusing on Green Street. If you have an independent shop there and would like a mention and to tell your story, contact jonathan.king@archant.co.uk


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