‘It’s been a very stressful and worrying time’: Small business owners like Karen Hall counting the days until 12 April reopening
Business owners in England are counting down the days until a week on Monday with eager anticipation. Barring any last-minute changes, April 12 is the date that non-essential retailers will reopen – alongside gyms, indoor swimming pools, hairdressers and outdoor hospitality venues.
‘I’m so excited about reopening,’ says Karen Hall, owner of ladies’ fashion boutique Karen George, in the pretty fishing village of Emsworth on the Hampshire and West Sussex border.
‘I think it’s going to be very busy for the first few weeks, at least before things get back to normal. But I’m hoping for a good summer season, especially as people might not be able to travel abroad for a while.’
Excited: Karen Hall is expecting to be busy when her boutique reopens
As a result of national lockdowns and local tier restrictions, Karen lost almost a year’s trading and can’t wait to start serving customers again.
‘It’s been a very stressful and worrying time, not knowing if the business would even survive,’ she says. ‘Being a small business, most of my trade was reliant on loyal locals, holidaymakers and day trippers, so sales dried up.’
Karen quickly learned to embrace digital marketing and built up online sales via social media platforms Facebook and Instagram. She even danced on TikTok to promote her shop.
Thankfully, her local council was ‘excellent’ in distributing the various business grants on offer, starting with the £10,000 Small Business Grant, and Karen is optimistic about getting the Restart Grant which launched last Thursday.
‘Lots of customers have said they can’t wait for me to reopen and hopefully there’ll be a lot of pent-up demand as most people haven’t bought new clothes for months,’ says Karen. ‘I’m so much looking forward to finally seeing my customers face-to-face.’
It’s been quite a lockdown for professional photographer Paul David Smith. On the downside he had to close his studio during much of last year and saw dozens of events such as weddings cancelled.
On the upside, he and his partner Rhian made a spur-of-the-moment decision to move from Peterborough to Cornwall where they have spent many happy holidays together. ‘Lockdown prompted us to change our lives,’ says Paul. ‘Our friends and family thought we were mad but they’re also a little bit envious.’
In two days, they sold their house and in a month had bought their new home with space for a photographic studio in Newquay. Keen surfer Paul learned the tricky and energetic art of surf photography, and began offering remote photo-shoots and online photography courses.
He says: ‘Customers connect their camera to their personal computer so I can control the photo-shoot, from lighting to backdrop, and they can get professional pictures in their own home.’
Working from home meant they didn’t qualify for any business grants but, says Paul philosophically: ‘We were forced to work extra hard to make things happen.’
Paul can’t wait to welcome customers into his new studio. ‘We’ve created a huge outdoor set-up so it’s all Covid-secure and we’re already totally booked up for the first few weeks from April 12,’ he says.
WHAT HAPPENS MONDAY WEEK?
Non-essential retail – including clothes shops, hairdressers and nail salons – should be able to open in England on April 12. Also, libraries, community centres, gyms (but not group fitness classes), zoos, theme parks and outdoor hospitality such as pub beer gardens.
Self-contained accommodation such as campsites and self-catering cottages where indoor facilities are not shared, can also reopen.
In terms of extra support for businesses that are reopening, the Government’s new Restart Grants scheme is now available.
This gives businesses in the nonessential retail, hospitality, leisure, personal care and accommodation sectors a one-off grant to help them reopen safely as Covid restrictions are lifted.
Non-essential retail business can get up to £6,000 and businesses in the hospitality, accommodation, leisure, personal care and gym sectors can get up to £18,000. Apply via your local council’s website.
The couple are also hosting holidays where people can learn how to take photos amid stunning Cornish scenery. ‘What better place is there to learn all about photography?’ Paul adds. ‘We just keep on asking ourselves – why didn’t we do this years ago?’
Pilates instructor and studio owner Stacy Weeks launched her Red Yew pilates, biomechanics and wellness studio in Tiverton, Devon, in 2018. She is delighted to be able to welcome people back for one-to-one training from April 12, but the rules mean she still can’t teach group classes until May 17.
‘It’s been so frustrating,’ she says. ‘I’m looking forward to seeing my clients again but it doesn’t make any sense that I’m not allowed to teach a class of five people when I’m allowed to let more than four times that into the gym.’
Lockdown has been full of ups and downs for Stacy, as it has been for many of Britain’s small businesses. Without the Government’s business support, she doubts whether her business would have survived, and while she managed to keep going by doing online classes, takings are still down by half.
‘There have been days when I wasn’t sure I could pay the bills – and there have been days of total joy,’ she says. ‘The one good thing to come out of all this is that so many people have been trying to help each other and that’s been lovely to see.’