Brixton firms anxious about how Tier 3 will hit their business

By Grainne Cuffe, local democracy reporter

Brixton businesses are worried about keeping afloat as Tier 3 restrictions are enforced in London.

The Government implemented the measures on Wednesday (December 16), the strictest in the Tier system, after a surge in Covid-19 cases across the capital.

In Tier 3 retails shops, hairdressers, and supermarkets can all stay open,  but pubs, restaurants, and cafés have been forced to shut at one the busiest times of year.

They were given fewer than two days notice.

CJ, who runs café/cocktail bar Unit 16 in Brixton Village, said she doesn’t know how the business will survive.

Though they will be selling produce and doing takeaways, she is concerned about the future.

“The first time when we had the lockdown we survived, then we slowly started to pick up again, then we closed for a month and just did takeaway.

“Now just when we were starting again, this happens.

“It’s frustrating, how are small businesses like us and others going to survive?”

She said the Government is not providing enough support.

“There’s rent to pay, electricity … everything. That doesn’t stop – they’re going to keep charging us.

“If it’s to stop the spread, that’s fair.

“But they’re basically telling you that the spreading comes from restaurants, pubs, bars, coffee shops – how about the rest?

“(Retail shops) are open because it’s Christmas and they need the economic boost. But is it fair? I don’t think so,” CJ said.

She added: “We’ve been struggling since the end of March to keep up with bills, to keep just above water.

“It’s getting harder and harder. Big businesses are already closing down – what are we meant to do?

“The Government should give businesses a boost to stay afloat. Even £300 or £400 for rent.”

Just across from Unit 16 is Express Café, where owner Cem Ozurt, pictured above, said he will have to change profession if things keep going the way they are.

He also criticised the amount of time between the announcement and the restrictions.

“It was too short notice – we are going to have throw some products in the bin,” Mr Ozurt said.

The café will still be doing takeaways but that means an 80 per cent drop in income.

Mr Ozurt is also worried the business will lose customers in the long-term.

“The opening and closing and opening and closing – it makes us lose customers.

“Either they are learning to cook at home or they find out ordering online is much easier for them,” he said.

He also said the Government should provide more financial support.

“They supported us from the beginning and we were really happy with it.

“But now I realise it’s not enough. [The pandemic and restrictions] just keep going on and on.

“If it keeps going like this I’ll have to change my job and do something else,” Mr Ozurt said.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial strategy said: “We understand the pressure businesses are currently under.

“With rising cases in London and parts of the East and South East of England, the current restrictions are essential so we can control the virus, protect the NHS and save lives.

“We have put in place a wide-ranging package of financial support worth £280 billion.

“This includes grants of up to £3,000 a month for businesses required to close in tiers 2 and 3, grants for Local Authorities to support businesses in tier 3 on a discretionary basis, the extension of the furlough scheme, various loan schemes, a business rates holiday and VAT deferrals to help businesses through this period.”

Other business were less concerned about the closures.

Charlie, who works at Friends of Mine, an Italian deli/café, said her boss is planning to do some renovations while they are shut.

The family-run business makes food on the day and orders when they need more so won’t have to throw anything away.

A ten-minute walk away sits the Duke of Edinburgh pub, where a huge garden has been helping business.

Because of its popularity, staff from other pubs owned by group owner Solitaire have been able to work there.

On Tuesday, the day before the restrictions came into place, the pub had 300 people booked in. Under normal circumstances the garden has capacity for more than 580, reduced to 350 because of the pandemic.

Fiona Keane, the general manager, said the situation wasn’t ideal.

“Obviously we want to stay open as long as possible but we realise there are safety aspects to it too and we want our customers and staff to be safe.

“It’s getting to the stage that we need to close and remain closed until it’s alright because this whole opening and closing for two weeks and shutting again is not great for us as a business.

“We’re fortunate that we’ve got such a big outdoor area that we’ve managed to employ people from our other pubs.

“Half the staff here at the moment live in north and east London because they’ve all come from our other pubs,” she said.

She added that staff were looking foward to opening in the New Year and doubts it will happen before then.

Ms Keane, like others in the industry, questioned the logic of keeping retail and hairdressers open, but shutting down pubs.

“It’s mad that you can go and get a haircut but you can’t get a pint,” she said.

Adacia Bryers, assistant manager at pub/club Dogstar in Coldharbour Lane, said the rules need to be followed.

“It’s what you’ve got to do,” she said. Ms Bryers will on furlough as of Wednesday.

“It’s a bit of worry but I think of myself as lucky – I’ve got a house over my head, I’ve some money saved.

“Honestly everyone is going to be in my prayers for this Christmas and New Year because I can’t imagine how tough it can be for some people,” she said.


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