‘We are on a wartime footing’: town traders fight to survive
PUBLISHED: 13:41 20 March 2020 | UPDATED: 09:28 21 March 2020
Small businesses in a coastal town are “on a wartime footing” as coronavirus is reducing custom - a year after the its high street suffered three months of disruption when a sinkhole opened in the road.
Footfall has dropped dramatically in Sheringham since coronavirus struck, leaving many small businesses fighting for survival.
Sheringham Chamber of Trade chairman John Roseby, who has run upmarket women’s clothing store Rags and Bags with his wife Moya for nearly seven years, said his takings had “practically hit zero”.
“With the sinkhole and Brexit, we have all had a very difficult 12 months, so everybody was hoping to see things settling back down and inching their way up,” he said.
“Obviously there are people like grocers and fresh food shops who are keeping busy, but, for others, we have now got a situation where people aren’t travelling to their second homes and caravans, which will completely decimate the Easter tourist trade.”
Mr Roseby, who has had to call his suppliers and postpone delivery of summer stock ordered nearly 12 months ago, added that the chamber of trade had been offering advice and support to those struggling to make ends meet.
“We want to tell people not to be afraid to pick up the phone if they are worried as there are a lot of business owners out there who are in the same boat,” he said.
“It is incredibly difficult when you’ve built up a good relationship with suppliers to have to make those calls, but we want people to talk to each other as there is help out there and one person might have a suggestion that someone else hasn’t thought of.”
While shops such as Rags and Bags have seen a large downturn in trade, others selling essentials such as bread, toiletries and fruit and vegetables have been struggling to meet demand.
Chris Wright, whose family has run Blyth and Wright ironmongers, in Station Road, for nearly 100 years, said that sales over the past two weeks had been “buoyant”, with people stocking up on pet food and cleaning products and taking on DIY projects to keep themselves busy while stuck at home.
With three staff self-isolating, he and his other 14 employees are having to work extra hard to keep on top of a large increase in telephone orders.
“I do worry about the town going forward, particularly as we are not going to have the business we would normally expect over Easter, but we will do whatever we can to keep going and I think we all have to cut our cloth accordingly to meet the challenges,” Mr Wright said.
With visitors staying away and pubs, cafes and restaurants forced to close, the town’s hot food outlets are having to think up new and creative ways of keeping trade ticking over, with many offering a home delivery service.
Other initiatives include a shopping service set up by taxi firm owner Craig Robinson with the help of one of his 11 self-employed drivers, Jon Sturgeon.
The idea is for businesses to team up and help those who are unable to get to the shops, by delivering prescriptions, shopping and takeaways by taxi at a flat rate of £3.50.
Mr Robinson, who has printed flyers and posters giving contact details of the traders who have signed up for the service, said that by sticking together, business owners could help vulnerable customers, and keep the cash coming in.
“We want to both help people and keep the community going, as if older people can’t get out, they are going to feel isolated and our local shops are going to suffer,” he explained.
Graham Deans, landlord of the Lobster pub and seafood restaurant, was hopeful the town would “ride the storm”. He said: “We learned an awful lot from the sinkhole saga, but this is on an unprecedented scale – we are on a wartime footing. We’ve got 126 businesses in the town, 72 of which are licenced to sell food and drink, but I think we are all determined to carry on until we can’t carry on.”
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As a Sheringham Carnival Association committee member, Mr Deans, who also offers bed and breakfast and holiday cottage accommodation, helps co-ordinate the town’s calendar of events, ranging from the Viking Festival and carnival, to the 1940s weekend and the Harley Davidson rally.
We might have to move the dates to the right, but nothing is being cancelled,” he insisted. “The message is, be positive and don’t give up - the town will come together like it did with the sinkhole and Sheringham is strong enough to get through this.”
‘We are just taking things day by day’: Traders’ views on coronavirus impact
Charlotte Stubbs, whose family has run Creativity gift shop, in High Street, for 20 years, welcomed the government announcement of a £32bn package of support for busineses, but felt more could be done.
She took the decision to close at the weekend, after becoming concerned for the health of her customers and staff.
Royston Young, who owns Roy Boys café, in Station Road, said he had suffered a 60pc drop in trade, even before being forced to shut up shop.
He added: “My staff are on reduced hours and, yes, I am a bit worried, but I’m more concerned about concrete information from the government about grants as we need help now.”
Martyn Jackson, who has run High Street ice cream shop Ellies for 30 years, said the crisis was a “golden opportunity” for people to support their local independent shops.
“There’s obviously going to be a drop in the number of people walking up and down the streets, but I’d tell them not to queue up in the supermarkets, but go to the small shops as they are the ones who really need their money.”
Paul Starling, of High Street toy shop and post office Starlings, said staff had been putting together isolation activity kits for children, which could be bought online.
“We sold 200 across our five shops in one day,” he said. “And although there has been a massive drop in older people coming into the Sheringham shop, there is still plenty of demand for toys and newspapers and the post office has been very busy – we are just taking things day by day.”ght to survive