'Sheffield is in a downward spiral' - city centre firms remain downbeat despite return of office workers
Office workers are back in Sheffield city centre – but businesses fear the road to pre-Covid prosperity will be long and bumpy.
Some firms saw a return of the lunchtime peak as hundreds of employees returned to their desks - some for the first time in 18 months.
The end of the school term and the success of the vaccination programme has led to firms reopening their doors, although few staff are back full time.
Small business bosses in Sheffield welcomed the move, hoping it heralds a return to normality in the run up to Christmas.
But Farran Whewell, general manager of Andrew’s Cafe Tea Rooms on Chapel Walk, said the loss of shoppers following a string of store closures could yet prove fatal.
Footfall has suffered following three lockdowns, the closure of John Lewis and Debenhams and a host of smaller units.
Mr Whewell said: “Those shoppers aren’t coming back to this part of town. Unless the council does something this company is not sustainable long term. Sheffield is in a downward spiral.
“Getting through this next year will be tough unless something drastic changes.”
Hector Hernandez of Burritos Y Mas in Orchard Square said Monday and Tuesday were ‘good’ due to returning workers - but then trade dropped off.
He added: “I hope it will pick up in the next two weeks as more people go back to the office. The last week of the summer holidays was good. But my best time was in March 2020 in the three weeks before lockdown.”
Emma Long, trainee manager at Lush on Fargate, said the lunchtime peak was back and they were recruiting to their 12-strong team, but trade was still down on pre-Covid times.
Diane Jarvis, of Sheffield BID, said commute congestion was close to the level of 2019.
She added: “The office sector hasn’t returned in any great numbers as yet, possibly because government recommended a gradual return over the summer. Now the schools are back, we’re hopeful this will change.”
The Business Improvement District is funded by city centre firms and pays for improvements, cleaning, events and publicity.