Stamford businesses upbeat for town future despite a turbulent year
Every business owner will have their own story to tell on what life has been like under Covid-19 restrictions, each one of them different.
Some businesses have been forced to close for much of the year, others have had to remain open as essential services, even while shoppers are encouraged to stay away from town centres.
Yet amid the hardship and sacrifice, there has been enterprise, and for those willing and able to adapt, there has been some success.
We asked some for their experiences and their forecasts for the future.
Sarah Sewell has run Energy Clothing in Ironmonger Street since 1996, and is an active member of independent group, #ShopStamford.
“I am here every day apart from Sunday doing click and collect, and we’ve been really busy.
“I was able to furlough two members of staff so it’s been just me doing it. I’m working really hard to get out what I can.
“Every lockdown I have developed the business in another new way.
“I’ve been doing lots of social media and virtual shopping and it’s working really well and we’re gaining customers from that.
“Just keeping that social media presence keeps you in the minds of your customers so I started doing videos on social media showing off the stock.
“Video content and Facebook have been really important so we’ve developed the website a little bit more.
“On Fridays I do Facebook Live and do videos trying things on - I’ve lost all my inhibitions!
“So there are ways to get money in, even when the doors are closed.
“Stamford town centre is quite a social place and people are really missing that interaction.
“People come and get their hair done, have a walk around the shops.
“I don’t think we will lose that, we just need to keep promoting small independents.
“We desperately need to be open in time for summer with no restrictions on the number of customers. Stamford is brilliant in summer.
“We are still getting new spring and summer stock so we’re sitting on quite a lot of autumn and winter stock.
“As a business we are just floating, we are not making money, just paying the bills for the shop, while the bank balance is going down and down.”
THE PUB LANDLORD WHO DIVERSIFIED
Stephen Alcock took over the Kings Head pub in Maiden Lane, Stamford, with his wife Annie Wilson in May 2016, and launched a new business Stamford Beers Direct last summer, to run alongside the pub.
“Each business has its own challenges,” Stephen said.
“We have lost a considerable amount of money, but we were always sensible with our profit margin.
“Whatever profit we had we invested in the business or put it to one side for a rainy day. And then it started to bucket down!
“I have always been confident we will bounce back. In Stamford we are fortunate that everyone is supported so well.
“Every pub has their core demographic and we have a loyal clientele so I don’t think we will have problems with people returning.
“Our small size works to our advantage in these times.
“The hospitality industry has taken an enormous amount of limelight in the trouble we are having during lockdown, but you also have to think about the effects on the beer manufacturers, the breweries, the cleaning companies.
“The ripple effect of pubs closing is massive and goes beyond hospitality.
“I think rent on the high street is a bit unrealistic for the current climate.
“Some really big brands like Clarks have cut loose and if they can’t make it work, it puts off the grassroots businesses from even contemplating that move.”
THE ESSENTIAL SERVICE
As the owner of Pets Korner, in Stamford Walk, and in Oakham, Sandra Sharpe has had to keep her shops open as essential services despite a big drop-off in customers through the door.
“We haven’t been getting the footfall we would normally get, but we do offer a delivery service and have picked up a few more customers through that.
“Some of our customers are elderly and delivering to them allows us to make sure they are OK which is nice.
“We close a little bit early because after 4pm there’s nobody in town - we just divert the shop phone to our mobiles.
“But we have a fairly loyal customer base and a lot of people have bought puppies in lockdown and need the things that come with that so we have picked up new customers there as well.
“We are not where we should be, but we are managing to pay our bills so it’s not as bad as some businesses are finding things.
“On one side we don’t want to have too many customers in the shop because we want people to stay safe, but on the other hand we do.
“I think overall we should be fine - we can just hope can’t we?
“When shops reopen people will come back to using them - I think people are desperate to go out and shop. They have missed out on retail therapy for such a long time.
“I think people have come to realise how important it is to support your local shops.”