Sunday, 05 July 2020

Please come back... it's vital to lifeblood of the town

Please come back... it's vital to lifeblood of the town

TRADERS in Henley are calling on people to help them recover from the coronavirus pandemic by returning to the shops when they start re-opening on Monday.

It comes as the Henley Standard relaunches its Think Local campaign, which encourages residents to support local businesses.

The initiative was originally launched in 2009 to help businesses fight back against the effects of the credit crunch which occurred after the global financial crash.

Shopping is vital because money spent in Henley stays in the town longer and works harder for the local economy, helping not just shops but other businesses such as accountants, estate agents and solicitors.

Laurence Morris, owner of Laurence Menswear in Duke Street, is supporting Think Local as he prepares to re-open his shop on Monday after being closed since March 23 when the Government imposed its lockdown to protect public health.

The shop will be open from 10am to 5.30pm Monday to Saturday and customers can also book private appointments outside these hours.

Mr Morris has installed a safety screen at the checkout and hand sanitiser in the entrance to protect staff and customers and the shop will also be cleaned regularly.

Customers will be able to use the changing rooms, which will be kept clean. If customers want to try items on at home and then return them, Mr Morris will steam clean and quarantine them for 72 hours before they are returned to the shop floor.

Mr Morris said: “On June 15 Henley is open again for business. Please come and support us.

“We seriously need everybody to help and it’s important that we get the message out. We’re following government guidelines and want to welcome people into the town and support it. It’s vitally important for any small, independent business.”

Mr Morris was grateful to receive a £25,000 support grant from the Government and for a 100 per cent discount on business rates this year.

This and the ability to furlough his manager Josh Marsh have prevented his business from suffering irreparable damage.

Mr Morris said: “I couldn’t effectively change to an online selling operation because of how Laurence Menswear operates and my business model. It would not have worked for all sorts of reasons.

“There’s cost, the fact that I stock independent brands and the whole essence of my business is that I want people to come in and get customer service. I also didn’t have packing or dispatching or returns facilities.”

He said the lockdown and cancellation of events such as Henley Royal Regatta and Henley Festival had come at the worst possible time for his business.

“This time of year is probably my most important,” he said. “Henley is very fortunate to have the regatta and festival but because those events have been cancelled and people’s summer holidays have been cancelled, it obviously affects my spring and summer business dramatically.

“Until I re-open I’ve got no idea how things are going to be. My turnover will be way down because of the lost business and whole effect of covid-19 and the cancellation of events.”

Despite this, he is optimistic, saying: “I think we’ve got a very strong business and an incredibly loyal customer base. I believe that people will not want to go into the big towns as much as they did, which will be good for a place like Henley.

“The next few months are going to be tough and once we can get through this and approach Christmas, I think businesses will build up again and hopefully by this time next year we will have recovered.

“All businesses need people to come back into town and support them. By doing so, we will grow again. There will be casualties, I’m sure, but on the whole I think a lot of the businesses do have the strength to get through this.”

The Sole Man in Duke Street has already resumed trading but few customers have returned and owner Jason Kempston is concerned about the future.

He has run the shoe repair, key- cutting and engraving shop for about 22 years and went back to work on Monday last week. The shop is open from 8.30am to 5.30pm Tuesday to Friday and 9am to 4.30pm on Saturday.

Mr Kempston, 50, said: “Please come back — just come back.

“There’s a section of people who are terrified by this and they’re not wrong to be terrified about it.

“I’m concerned because there was already a downturn in retail so we were already in that downward curve and then this hits.”

He received a £10,000 support grant and was able to furlough himself after the Government launched its scheme to help workers.

Mr Kempston said: “I’m personally grateful for what the Government, particularly the Chancellor, has done but it can’t continue because it’s unsustainable.

“I’m absolutely positive there will be some closures here and not just for financial reasons but because people now realise they are able to shop and do business from home.

“People who don’t usually use the internet for shopping have had the opportunity to learn and found out how convenient it is. That could affect footfall, which is the main concern. We need that back.

“It’s absolutely vital because it’s the lifeblood of the town. You think about all the money that’s connected to it. It feeds everybody. We’re desperate for footfall — desperate for it.

“But through this whole thing we’re in it together and that is one of the big positives that has come out of this. We’re all behind each other.”

Mr Kempston said his business could close if trade did not pick up or there was a second lockdown.

“I would say that I have enough money to survive this quarter but if it’s the same in the next two that will be difficult,” he said.

“Maybe having everybody back at home bored means they might go shopping. That’s what we’re all hoping.”

The Golden Needle tailors in Friday Street has been open on and off since May 20 but is planning to
re-open fully on Monday. It will resume normal working hours of 9am to 6pm, Monday to Saturday.

Manager Deniz Kamalak, 46, said: “We’re so happy to be re-opening. We’ve missed it.

“My message is the same as others’ — I would like people from all around the small villages, towns and Henley to come back because it helps money flow through the town.

WEveryone is struggling at the moment. It will probably take us six months to get back to normal if there’s not a second peak.

“We don’t want to close down but we don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s too early to say but I think people will come back slowly. It has been such a long time and they’ve got so bored at home. If they protect themselves with masks, which we are selling, it’s easy for them to come back into the store and we will take two at each time.”

Boat hire firm Hobbs of Henley, which celebrates its centenary this year, closed on March 25 but
re-opened its office on Monday for bookings and enquiries and will restart day boat hire from tomorrow (Saturday).

Managing director Jonathan Hobbs said the lockdown had been a very difficult period.

He said: “The series of announcements from March through to the end of April, first about how bad the virus was getting and then the cancellation of all the events we were associated with, made us realise it was going to be a really bad summer.

“We were very worried that if we weren’t able to salvage something of the summer it could be disastrous so I really do welcome the announcement we could open mid-June.”

He said the fortunes of his business were weather-dependent so if the fine weather of April and May returned this would help.

Mr Hobbs said the spring and summer season helped his business, and many others, get through the autumn and winter.

The company received grants via both South Oxfordshire District Council and Wokingham Borough Council for its two premises — its pleasure boat business in Station Road and its boatyard off Wargrave Road — and has been given a year’s “holiday” from paying business rates.

Mr Hobbs said: “My biggest worry is the larger vessels which we’re still unable to use until, potentially, July 4 and how we’re going to work with social distancing.”

He said the company was spending a lot of time ensuring customer and staff safety so that families and small groups could enjoy being on the water. He said: “I think it makes us focus our minds on how important the local community is and I would hope that when we re-open if people are looking for a healthy day out, or some leisure time in the open air, they will be thinking of us.

“You can pretty much get everything you need now in Henley without going to other bigger towns and the risk of using public transport dissuades people from going to other towns.

“We’re lucky in Henley to have some great towpath walks by the river and other walks around the town and it would be good if people could go out and enjoy the fresh air and spend some money at the same time.”

Mr Hobbs added: “I think it’s definitely a good time to relaunch Think Local. I think it’s a really good time to support each other, the local community and each other’s businesses.”

Barry Wagner, owner of butchers Gabriel Machin, in Market Place, agreed, saying: “It can only be good for the town. We’ve got a lovely town and community and if we all help each other it can only grow.

“If people can help a small independent rather than a multi-national conglomerate, that’s got to be beneficial for everybody and putting food in a local person’s mouth. If £1 gets spent locally it just keeps going round. If you can support, all the better.”

The butchers has remained open throughout the lockdown and did not furlough any of its five full-time staff.

Mr Wagner said: “We have been lucky enough to have been busier than normal, to be honest.

“A lot of people have been frightened to go to the supermarket where they’re much more populated. Instead they’ve been happy to support a local business and we only allow two people in the shop at a time.”

There are usually three or four staff in his shop behind the counter at any one time and the remaining staff work at the back of the shop.

The store is closed on Sundays and Mondays but open from 8.30am to 5.30pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, 8.30am to 5pm on Wednesdays, and 8.30am to 4pm on Saturdays.

Mr Wagner said: “If people spend money here or any other local shop or business, that money potentially goes to another local business.

“I like to think we’re an essential part of the community and very lucky that we’ve managed to stay open and unaffected by any of it.

“The more local businesses we can all help, the better. Henley people really do get behind each other when it comes to the crunch. It’s a great community.”

Berries Coffee in Hart Street has been providing a takeaway service since the launch of the Henley Basket website at the start of May. The online ordering service, which is run by Henley Town Council, allows residents to buy directly from retailers.

The café will not be re-opening fully on Monday but owner Lawrence Tian hopes to be able to welcome customers back from July.

He has received a £25,000 support grant and was able to furlough his six members of staff.

Five have now returned to help him with the takeaway service. All wear masks and gloves to protect both themselves and customers , who have to queue outside for their orders.

When the shop does re-open properly and customers can enter, they will be separated by wooden panels and the checkout will have a screen.

Mr Tian, 38, who has run the café for more than two years, said: “I would encourage people to support local businesses rather than the chains.

“It’s better for individual businesses and will help them to survive during this pandemic crisis. I would like to say please help us. Support local businesses and support small independents because cash flow is limited and they’re struggling.

“I think most businesses have been affected and are struggling, If they don’t generate enough business they might close down. That’s really hard to say and I’m not sure about the future but it has not affected us too much. We just need to survive and I have employees relying on me.

“We need to try to get over this crisis and re-open as soon as possible while conditions are okay for us to trade. I would just encourage people to come and support Henley, local businesses and our community.”

• Robert Dyas, the harware store in Bell Street. will be among the first of the firm’s branches to re-open on Monday. Company chairman Theo Paphitis said: “We know from recent feedback that our customers and colleagues are eagerly awaiting the return.”

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