Shop Local: Romford independent shops reveal impact of Covid-19 pandemic
PUBLISHED: 07:00 23 October 2020
Ken Mears Photography
This week the Recorder is launching our Shop Local campaign to support the borough’s independent shops and businesses.
Our high streets are the life blood of our communities and they are in trouble – not simply from the internet but the consequences of Covid-19 and lockdown.
As the pandemic continues to impact our lives, we have been speaking to independent shops to see how they are coping.
“It’s very uncertain times.” Justine Lloyd, manager of Dizzy Fashions, utters words that will be familiar for many right now.
The business, located in the Liberty Shopping Centre, has traded in Romford for 35 years.
She said it is part of the town’s community, adding: “It was very difficult when lockdown came about. People were used to coming in to us.
“The elderly would come in for a chat and a cup of tea. Schoolchildren know they can come in and charge their phones.”
The shop set up a website during lockdown which Justine felt had been a great help.
She said: “Normally now we would have trade for people going away when children go back to school, which isn’t happening.
“Eveningwear has stopped, because people are not going out, so it’s tough. But we’re doing OK.”
Kerrie O’Neal, owner of That Photo Place, has run her business for seven and a half years and called 2020 “the craziest year so far”.
She used to have a stall in the Liberty but has temporarily moved into a shop to help with social distancing.
She said: “It’s been a bit of a struggle getting people to come out. It’s slowly improving but it has been really, really difficult.
“A lot of our stuff is if people have been on holiday – which has obviously been affected. And a lot of weddings have been cancelled.”
Kerrie, who set up a website for the business during lockdown, said Christmas is the time when the shop makes most of its sales.
Andy Brace owns Worldwide Signings, in Romford Shopping Hall, a store which sells a variety of autographed memorabilia.
It normally hosts meet-and-greets, but these have been put on hold.
“That’s hurt the business. Trade has been steady rather than busy,” Andy said.
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“I keep getting asked ‘when’s the next event?’ I can’t answer that right now.”
Having run the shop for 11 years, he said it’s very hard being an independent business.
“An independent store is a family store. We’ve all got kids to feed, we haven’t got hundreds of customers. I have made it work through sheer, hard work.”
Paul Donald, who owns printing shop Inprints, also in Romford Shopping Hall, believes shopping with independents is vital in keeping town centres alive.
He said: “I think people like the friendliness and the personal nature of interacting with owners of small businesses.
“Human interaction is an important thing, especially in times like these - it’s good for the nation’s mental wellbeing.”
The business has been trading since 1976 and Paul has worked there for almost 20 years.
He said trade has been better than expected since re-opening.
Utter Nutter, a men’s clothing store in South Street, is another business that has been excelling. Owner Kashif Qazi revealed trade had been “pretty spectacular” at the Romford store.
He said the focus is now on Christmas and adapting what they sell to people’s changing lifestyle.
“The fact people are relaxing a little bit more at home means tracksuits and loungewear are more relevant than things to go out in.”
But concern remains about the possibility of another lockdown.
Kashif added: “It would be incredibly damaging for us, especially in the run-up to Christmas.”
Anita Curcio said the festive season is very important for her gift shop Heaven At Home, which she runs with her husband.
Mother’s Day, the business’ second biggest time of the year, fell during lockdown and Anita said trade dropped off drastically in the run-up to the restrictions.
“It was eerie. Footfall here was terrible. The day before we went into lockdown, one person walked past and at 1pm we had to put the shutters down.”
Anita kept the store, in the Liberty, closed for a couple of extra weeks after lockdown was lifted to see how things were going and to help some of her staff, who work part-time and had children who were not back in school.
She said the shop has been very busy since reopening and admitted that building up an online presence has really helped.
Having worked in department store Liberty’s in London, Anita thinks good customer service “goes a long way”.
“Romford is a little bit different to Regent Street but they’re all just as important as each other. It doesn’t matter how much you’re spending, everyone is important.”
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