Sheffield retailers' relief as shoppers show up on first day of most important Christmas ever
Shopkeepers on a busy independent parade in Sheffield reported an encouraging start after lockdown 2 - ahead of their most important Christmas ever.
Most businesses on Sharrow Vale appear to have survived a second period of enforced shutdown and were trading again with enthusiasm and relief despite some new restrictions.
But it was not back to normal. Sheffield’s ‘tougher Tier 3’ status meant cafes and restaurants could only do takeaway and some clearly thought opening on a Wednesday wasn’t worth their while.
Others had not had time to get their Christmas tree and decorations up and one shopkeeper said there were no festive street lights this year.
But newly-released consumers hit the shops in reassuring numbers.
Aida Morris of Crosspool was disappointed - because the £99 jumper at Stock Exchange she had been after for weeks had already gone.
She said: “I was window shopping during lockdown and thought I’d come down on the day they reopened but I was too late!”
She planned to go on to Clever Clogs for shoes for her grandson and Down to Earth for vegetarian food, among others.
She added: “I normally walk down but I drove today because I’m going to bulk buy.”
Rebecca Lambton, owner of Clever Clogs said she had been ‘close’ to closing for good despite accepting grants and spending her savings.
She added: “It’s great to be back, definitely. It’s been quiet so far but we’re usually busy after school and at the weekend.
“November is normally my best month. Now I’ve got to make double to cover being closed. I’m a bit apprehensive, are people spending?”
There were queues outside the bank and sandwich shops, including Pom. After eight months of restrictions, people knew the drill: wear a mask, keep a safe distance.
Clare and Katy Wheatcroft-Lee of Crookes said they felt safe because they were outside.
They used independent shops but the pandemic increased their support. They were heading to b.biscuit and Trapeze for clothes one-year-old Jude, and Seven Hills Bakery.
Clare said: “We’re making more of an effort to use independents this Christmas, knowing everyone is struggling.”
Maria Proctor, of The Brookhouse Florist, had just reopened, but was quieter than expected.
She joked: “I think everyone’s at Debenhams! But I’m not feeling desperate at all.
“When we reopened after lockdown one we were really busy. People had had three months with nowhere to spend and they were sending flowers to friends and buying them to make working from home nicer.
“Now all our Christmas stock is in and December is crucial to our survival. I’m buying less stock but more often and I’m hoping it all goes and I can go home early on Christmas eve.”
But she feared a third lockdown in January or February after a five-day Christmas period when restrictions on meeting family are lifted.
Sue Mills of Fulwood was buying Christmas presents from Petals accessories before a coffee from Sebastians and grub from Porter Brook Deli.
“I feel safe at Sharrow Vale, we shop with independents if we can and have tried to use them more this year.”
Natalie Hague, boss of Kinkks Hair and Social said it was great to be open again and they were booked up in December.
The business had been through very tough times but she had “not worked for eight years to let it go.”
She added: “I’ve taken all the help I can get. Now we’re open again but with fewer chairs. People still want their hair done for Christmas even if they’re not going out.”
But she was anxious about repaying loans next year and the impact of a possible lockdown 3.
In ‘lockdown 1’ retail and hospitality businesses forced to close could claim grants of £10,000 or 25,000 depending on rateable value.
Since then support schemes have mushroomed. In lockdown 2, they could access grants from when Sheffield went into Tier 3, as well as business rates holidays and coronavirus bank loans, with repayment holidays. There were also grants for the self-employed and the furlough scheme for workers.
But although extensive, the second round of grants did not cover bills, traders said. Many have been reluctant to take out loans not knowing if they’d be able to pay them back.
Most have spent savings and not given themselves a wage.
Across the country thousands have shut up shop for good.
Sharrowvale Road is one of Sheffield’s most popular independent shopping streets with a vibrant mix of clothing, gift and food outlets, as well as hairdressers, a hardware store, pet shop, jewellers, bookshop, running shop and specialist off licence.
A large ‘for sale’ sign on tanning shop Electric Beach was noticeable due to its size and - rarity.
Hunters Bar school stands on the other side of the road. It has installed a living green barrier of ivy and other plants to soak up fumes from traffic which chokes the area during rush hour and threatens to push playground pollution limits above international standards.
In normal times the road is closed for a street market several times a year. And some have called for the road to be pedestrianised permanently to improve the environment.
Dyson Place, off Sharrowvale Road, has recently been redeveloped, reflecting the area’s growing popularity. It features cafes, kids’ clothing, physiotherapy, a lighting shop and two street food vans.
Danny Pinch of Pellizco, which sells Mexican food, has just won Best Newcomer at the British Street Food Awards.