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Indies fear being ‘crippled’ by coronavirus

Independent retailers across the UK are calling for public support as many fear their businesses will “die a death” from the Covid-19 coronavirus.  

Yesterday the government advised against all non-essential social interaction, forcing the public to work from home and steer clear of the high street. As a result, there is expected to be a “significant” drop in footfall and sales, according to British Independent Retailers Association (Bira).

“I think we probably won’t be here soon, I can’t see business ever recovering – nobody’s allowed out, people aren’t wandering around looking at clothing”, Carol Hicks, owner of independent womenswear store Maggie’s in Ingatestone, Essex told Drapers.

“Since Friday [13 March] we’ve had a half dozen people across the door and are saying they’re not going anywhere so aren’t buying anything.

“This will be horrendous for small businesses – no one was rocking and rolling to begin with, this will finish everyone off and change the high street completely.”

Sarah Haste, co-owner owner of independent womenswear store Coco Blue Boutique, in Taunton, Somerset, agreed: “Business hasn’t plummeted yet, but I am expecting it to die a death because of the government guidelines for no unnecessary contact.

“If the virus lasts for a year or eighteen months then we’ll be crippled. I really can’t see any business surviving if coronavirus lasts that long.”

Prime minister Boris Johnson yesterday advised people to avoid visiting pubs, restaurants and theatres, but did not mention retail stores. Several businesses across the UK are continuing to remain open until they are advised to close by the government. Elsewhere, many independent retailers across Ireland have already shut.

Independent retailers have called for further clarification from the government if the UK goes into lock-down, and they are forced to closed.

“There needs to be some clarification around what happens if there is a lock down”, Andrew Goodacre, CEO of Bira said.

“Does that mean they’re getting some sort of compensation for the loss of business? People’s minds are now being focused on the idea of being told to close, and what that means for a business. There doesn’t seem to be much coming out of Europe of how it’s happened there.”

Hicks agreed: “Boris was right [to tell everyone to avoid unnecessary contact] but he should tell everyone to close. The ambiguous announcement to close if you want to isn’t any help - for insurance purposes for one, people need to be told for certain as we’re unsure of what to do.

“I’m staying open, I’ll have to get rid of my staff this week and see how it goes. I employ two people casually who come in when I need them to, I feel terrible but you have to do it yourself if you want to stay open.”

Ann Bryl, owner of womenswear and accessory store Bryl’s Boutique, in Barry, Wales, said: ”I’ve been in retail for almost 50 years, self employed for 30 and I’ve never experienced anything like the last four days. I plan to stay open until the government says I have to close, I’m 65 so I have to watch my health as well.

“I didn’t find Boris’ guidance clear, he needs to make a decision.”

Businesses are now calling for support from the public in order for them to continue to survive.

“I’ve got a young family, and so does my staff, so we’re worried about paying bills”, the owner of one menswear business in Crewe said.

“It’s all very uncertain at the minute. We all need to pull together and help each other as much as we can, including customers. People need to support us and keep buying where possible.”

The store manager of a womenswear indie in Glasgow, Scotland, agreed: “I am very aware I could be out of a job in the next few weeks. It’s such a scary time for small businesses especially.

“I understand the last thing people want to be doing is buying clothes right now, but we can get things posted to people who don’t want to leave the house. We’re also looking at certain collection times.

“If everyone takes precautions and keeps spending we should be able to dampen it – every little really does help.”

Readers' comments (2)

  • A lot of independents have plenty of winter stock left over, a shop full of unpaid spring summer stock and just when they should be selling S/S,now face zero footfall/ closure for at least a few months best, possibly reopening just when the summer sales would normally be happening and new A/W stock knocking in the door, along with more bills ... extremely hard for anyone to navigate

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  • darren hoggett

    Indie should be in talks with their brand partners if they have not already done so. Work out a plan that can navigate you through what will be an extremely difficult period. Brands will work with you.

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