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Slow start for smaller shops as doors are reopened

‘There’s no tourist trade... unfortunately today Islingtonians haven’t really turned out either’

19 June, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Christopher Moss at Moss leather bag shop in Camden Passage

SHOPKEEPERS have called on the public to “support local independent” stores as they reopened this week for the first time since the coronavirus lockdown order to close.

While queues extended out of big stores in the borough such as Sports Direct, Waterstones and H&M on Monday, there was less of a stampede to smaller businesses which have been rocked by weeks with no trade.

Shops and stallholders in the iconic Camden Passage area said turnover was down by at least 50 per cent, with many places remaining closed despite the government’s decision to relax the rules on trading.

Maryanne Wilkins in Camden Passage

Christopher Moss, who has run the Moss leather bag shop in the Passage for more than 15 years, said: “Since we opened on Monday, about 50 per cent of people who would usually stop now walk straight past, usually they have masks on. Then the other 50 per cent I have to encourage them to sanitise their hands, they are just not bothered at all. Generally younger people are a lot more relaxed.”

He added: “One of the reasons you are seeing so many shops still closed is because many of them could not afford to take their staff off furlough. I’m lucky that it is just me in my small shop. No staff wages to pay.”

Shops have received a rates holiday which will last until next year, while the government has also backed loans and, for now, guaranteed 80 per cent of wages for staff who have been furloughed under its job retention scheme.

Annie Moss in Camden Passage

But the furlough scheme is being tapered off with businesses being asked to contribute more at the start of August.

The Camden Passage antiques market opened for the first time on Wednesday and stalls will be out again at the weekend.

Maryanne Wilkins, who has owned a stall in the market for more than 20 years, said: “Naturally there are no tourists, so that takes away a lot of trade. Unfortunately today the Islingtonians haven’t really turned out either. We’re hoping they will come on the weekend.”

Sara Campbell book seller at Waterstones in Islington Green

Fellow stallholder Ron Sansom added: “At least 50 per cent of my trade would go to tourists. I started selling in the 80s and it was great.

“Then it went off for about six-seven years and then the trade came back again and now it is dying off again. Coronavirus has not helped, it’s killing off a lot of businesses.”

Annie Moss, who runs the Annie’s vintage clothes shop, said she had just made her first sale of the day when the Tribune visited her at 3pm on Wednesday.

She added: “It was nice to make a sale but it’s not really good enough for a market day.

Queues form outside H&M

“We need people to come down. We need people to support local independent shops. We all still have rents to pay and bills at home.”

Ian Torrens, manager at the Waterstones in Islington Green, said that “surprisingly” the shop had taken more on Monday than it had on the same day last year.

Waterstones bookseller Sara Campbell added: “We have a lot of hygiene safety measures here. There are hand sanitisers all around the store. If someone picks up a book and does not buy it they are meant to place it in a shelf next to the till. Then we put the in a tote box, and it is taken away for 72 hours before it is returned to the shelf.”

The next phase of the government’s “roadmap” for restarting the economy is for the hospitality sector, including pubs, leisure centres and hairdressers, to reopen on July 4.

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