Picking up the pieces: Cafes recover after lockdown

Cafe's across Preston battle against the quiet high streets as lockdown restrictions ease but their tables remain empty.

Thursday, 23rd July 2020, 10:05 am
Ravenous owner Louise Fey says although they are "managing", thebusiness is still extremely quiet.

The news comes after one cafe, at Preston's Go Outdoors, Deepdale, admitted they only made £1.80 profit in an entire day, from a customer who just wanted to use the bathroom.

Independent businesses, such as coffee shops are now facing an uphill struggle back to normality after the coronavirus pandemic put a halt on their incomes.

VAT is to be slashed from 20 to five percent for businesses in the tourism and hospitality industries, an announcement by chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled on July 8, in hopes it will encourage the public make a return to the high street.

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Owner of Ravenous, Louise, says she is finding it difficult as an independent business.

Ravenous, a small standalone coffee shop on Cannon Street, Preston, is now operating with half their capacity. Owner Louise Sey says although they are "managing", the business is still extremely quiet.

She worries that being close to large coffee chain Costa Coffee is having an impact on her sales and proving tough competition.

"It has been very quiet and there has been a limited amount of people visiting us. I think it's because there are a lot of people who are still wary about the high street and choosing to be cautious.

"I usually have quite a good customer base, but because I am so close to Costa, I have definitely seen more people going in there to get takeaway orders. I think they have more 'oomph' than small businesses like mine.

The couple have made the decision to stay closed for the time being

"We have been running with 50 percent less tables, so although we will manage, it will be a struggle from here because every day is different. I used to have regular customers and income so I would know how much stock to order - but now its a very irregular business to be in."

Bon Bon's coffee bar, Penwortham, have made the tough decision to keep tables empty and doors closed in fear of another spike, as many of their customers are elderly and vulnerable.

Owner Sylvia claims that being closed and the possibility of reopening to no customers would be "damaging" for the business.

"We felt 4th July was too soon for us to be confident in opening. We can’t know yet if there’s going to be a spike now that the hospitality flood gates have been allowed to re open, because a lot of our customers are elderly and vulnerable," she said.

Sylvia with owner David, at Bon Bons coffee bar.

"Whilst being closed, having no income has been very difficult. Reopening and having no customers will be more damaging to our business, as we found out the week before the lockdown was announced when we had to throw hundreds of pounds worth of fresh produce away.

"This time around we can’t afford to be doing that and hope by delaying our re opening a little longer, it will raise confidence in the customers that it is now safer to visit our establishment."

Fears for the future of high streets in our towns and villages remain a concern for Bon Bons owner Sylvia Holmes, has co-owned the cafe and bar for three years with partner Richard.

The cafe-owning couple remain hopeful that the announcement of VAT cuts until January 12 will help encourage customers to support smaller independent businesses.

Manager Kat Jordan, of Ultimate Cafe, took 1.80 all day last week.

She commented: "Whilst money wasn’t our main reason for a career change we still need to make enough to break even or the business isn’t viable and would have permanently close.

"The hospitality industry is the hardest industry to break through and make a profit without the Covid-19 pandemic, so these really are trying times for our industry. The latest VAT decrease to five percent could help our industry but only if our customers return. The future of the high street may never recover from this."

Worries for the high street battle continue as in Preston, footfall year on year is 52 percent down on the same time last year, the region sits at 53 percent down and the UK is 58 percent down.

Ultimate Cafe, an independent coffee shop in Deepdale's Go Outdoors, announced their struggle as owner Andrea Edwards revealed they made a disappointing £1.80 in a full day of trade.

Manager Kat Jordan said that her and other staff members were "fearful of their jobs" going forward.

She said: "The two girls working with us at the minute are struggling and worrying that business won't pick up and that they will end up out of a job."

The Lancashire-headquartered Federation of Small Businesses National Chairman Mike Cherry said: “Millions of small firms are having to let staff go, cut back investment and cease hiring after months of disruption.

“Many will be feeling hopeful following the Prime Minister’s intervention today – especially those across England that rely on commuter footfall, host events or conduct face-to-face beauty

treatments.

"But others will worry that the Government is reducing its direction on the unlocking process, in contrast to how it managed the lockdown."

Mr Cherry added: "“The Prime Minister should also recognise that – while most small businesses have been helped by emergency measures – many have not. We need to know how company directors and the newly self-employed, left stranded for more than 100 days, will be supported in future.

"Small firms are having to reduce headcounts now. If the Government wants to stem the tide and promote job creation, it needs to look at reducing the upfront costs of employment, starting with employer national insurance contributions."

However, in a report by the Preston BID, it revealed that Preston’s high street may be performing better than Manchester and Liverpool’s in post lock down recovery, with the city's overall score on the recovery index at 59% where Liverpool sits at 38% and Manchester at 34%. The national average is 45%.

The report also shows that Preston’s high street is a destination of choice for people coming from outside of the city.

John Boydell, Chair of Preston BID said: “The report shows Preston is performing well in terms of its high street recovery, and the BID is proud to have played its part, but there is still a long way to go.

“We are about to enter phase two of the city’s recovery, supported by grant funding from central government, a fund which will managed in Preston by the local authority.

“It will be a big boost to the local economy if we can continue on this positive trajectory whilst maintaining that the safety of those living in, working in, and visiting the city centre remains our top priority.”