Independent businesses’ Christmas trade ‘decimated’ amid Omicron spread

·4-min read

Independent businesses have said the latest package of support announced by the Treasury will not be enough to help them through a difficult Christmas period, with lower footfall seen in cafes and shops as consumers try to avoid the new Omicron variant.

The Treasury has announced a package of support including one-off grants of £6,000 per premises for businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors, with £100 million of discretionary funding available to local authorities to support other firms.

But independent retailers have said the funding may not help them in the face of a future lockdown.

Lauren Hutchinson, owner of The Rock Fairy Limited, a rock and roll-themed zero-waste shop and sustainable cafe based in Afflecks, Manchester, said her business was excluded from government support during previous lockdowns and that as “we started getting new variants, trade has steadily plummeted since September really”.

“This month has been insane, it should be the busiest time of year. Today we opened at 10.30am and we’ve taken £6,” she said.

She added that shoppers needed to feel safe, and many regular customers were avoiding the shop because they wanted to safeguard festive family plans but that her trade had fallen by 60%.

“The six grand, it doesn’t cover what we’ve lost, so it’s certainly not going to cover what we stand to lose as well if they lock us down,” she said.

Ms Hutchinson added that it would “just about” help the company through Christmas.

Andrew Murray, director of independent brewers the Twisted Brewing Company in Westbury, Wiltshire, said: “I’m obviously disappointed and concerned about getting through the next two months because ordinarily we see trade has a downturn in January/February post-Christmas, and normally our Christmas trade would take us through and see us through that.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen our trade decimated this week and last week and we’re certainly not expecting anything next week, so the last few weeks of Christmas trade have been decimated by what the Government have said or not said really.”

He added that trade was 60% lower than expected takings in a normal December and that the firm was trying to “pivot to supplying people direct” as they had during the lockdowns but that the changes in trade caused by Omicron had taken the business “unawares” as they had not prepared to change their entire business model over “without any financial support from the Government”.

He said that the Treasury offer of support would be “very welcome” but added that he doubted if this would include suppliers to the hospitality industry and that they would therefore face “a long cold winter ahead of us” where suppliers would need to “throw ourselves at the mercy of our local authorities”.

Meletius Michael, founder of Meletius Coffee in Islington, London, said: “We’re moving our premises to just a roasters and not a coffee shop, because I just knew that there were going to be more restrictions and no help, so as soon as Plan B came we had already lost 50% of our turnover per day so it’s just not viable.”

He added that he would be closing the coffee shop on Friday and that footfall at his premises was down, although the surrounding area was busy.

“All of a sudden people become more hesitant and they’re scared to come inside a shop”, he said, adding that the weekend before Plan B was announced the shop’s takings had been £600 from coffee and £300 the week afterwards.

While the overall business was doing well, he added that “partially the reason for the shop closing is because of restrictions”.

He said that the Treasury grant “doesn’t help us at all – £6,000 is nothing”.

“In any business, 50% of your outgoings is your salary on payroll, so £6,000 is literally covering a very small dent – it needed to be furlough scheme at a minimum or a much higher grant”.

He added that at a minimum, £25,000 would be needed to cover Christmas and that the amount announced was “hilarious to us”.

James Calder, chief executive of the Society of Independent Brewers (Siba), said: “The context to this is that hospitality, pubs, have always been the focus of any support from government – breweries by and large have had to rely on discretionary [local government] support and that hasn’t really changed today, so whilst the announcements from the Chancellor today have been welcomed, it really doesn’t touch the sides for breweries.”

He said some Siba members might see their cashflow run out by the time they could access funding,  with many contacting him to say that they only had a few days of cashflow left.

“Six thousand pounds is what a lot of pubs would expect to take in one good day at Christmas, it doesn’t really cover the losses that we’ll make and the cashflow that we need to take us into January and beyond.”

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