“It’s tough because the volume of customers has reduced drastically because people are still a bit reluctant to come out”
Independent businesses in Chelmsford are fighting for survival this winter as the county moves into a Tier Two lockdown.
Last Thursday (October 17), the area moved from Tier One, on ‘medium’ alert, to Tier Two, on ‘high’ alert – and the long-term impacts could be catastrophic for business owners.
Under the new rules, people living in areas under the jurisdiction of Essex County Council will not be allowed to meet up with others from outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting.
It’s another huge blow for the hospitality sector. Restaurant bookings have been cancelled and business owners in Chelmsford, Essex are fearing customers will lie about their living situation.
Some have said they feel “exposed”, forced to rely on the honesty of their customers to follow the new rules.
Here’s what business owners on Moulsham Street think of the new, tougher restrictions:
The Tearoom owners that “hope customers will be honest”
On September 3, Loubees Tearoom opened its doors, run by mother and daughter Sue and Natalie Ide.
The family business relocated from Hanging Garden Nurseries, just off the A414, to the heart of Chelmsford city centre and their regular customers came with them.
Sue said: “I haven’t been so worried about business slowing down because of Covid because we have lots of loyal regulars.
“We’re lucky because were established at the garden centre for five years building up a customer base, and if we didn’t have that we would be struggling now.”
The tearoom seats 31 people upstairs and downstairs and offers a range of cakes, breakfasts and lunches.
Despite having to furlough two members of staff, business is booming at Loubees Tearoom which was packed out at lunchtime last Thursday (October 16).
However, Sue and Natalie have some concerns about the new Tier Two rules.
“We are a bit unsure about how we will police the new rules,” Sue said. “We will have to ask people if they are from the same household – but how will we know?
“We will just have to trust people and hope they are honest with us.
“People’s health is our main priority. I don’t think people have anything to worry about if all the rules are followed and establishments are social distancing and religiously cleaning everything.”
Sue fears the move into Tier Two will have a “devastating” impact on the city centre – especially for small independent businesses.
“Small businesses bring individuality,” she said. “I feel Moulsham Street is full of character because of the variety of shops it has but smaller independents just can’t afford to pay the rates in Chelmsford.”
The shop owner that thinks the government is “scaremongering” us
From the new to the old, Springfield Florist celebrated its 20 year anniversary on Moulsham Street last week (October 15) and owner Jemma Hanness thinks the move to Tier Two is an act of “scaremongering”.
She said: “I think they are scaremongering people and they are doing well because people are anxious to come out.”
Jemma is hopeful that Moulsham Street will not only survive, but thrive when the bigger stores start closing down.
“The street is becoming a bit like its own Little Chelmsford,” she said. “People are able to get everything they need here, from hairdressers to the Farm Shop.
“It drags people away from the city, which is bad for shops there but good for us. I think it’s the big stores that will go first because of their overheads.”
Like many businesses, Jemma has had to adapt her ways throughout lockdown and now she has started a home delivery service.
While her wedding-related work has been slower than usual, she says business is going well.
The restaurant owner offering 40% off and still getting cancellations
Julian Tanasa opened Rustic’s Restaurant in July last year, but the Romanian restaurant is facing cancellation after cancellation following the move into Tier Two ‘high’ alert.
Julian said: “We have had a few cancellations this week because they have booked but they are not part of the same household.
“How are we supposed to ask people if they are in the same household? Do we ask them to bring their council tax and utility bills in their pockets?
“I think most restaurants are going to have to rely on people’s honestly, but it’s a risk, we are a bit exposed to people lying and saying they live together when they don’t.”
In a bit to survive Julian is offering customers 40% off from Tuesdays to Thursdays on orders up to £40.
But, despite the incredible discounts, Julian says he has had no Christmas bookings yet this year.
He said: “It’s tough because the volume of customers has reduced drastically because people are still a bit reluctant to come out.
“We had quite a few bookings last year for Christmas, but this year we have nothing.
“Chelmsford is struggling anyway, there are lots of empty units especially in the Meadows and Baddow Road and that’s before lockdown happened.”
The father seeking more financial support for struggling businesses
John Prior, who opened Hop Beer in 2014, thinks there should be more financial support and guidance for business owners.
He said: “We are quite tight on space so we have to juggle people around.
“In the past we could have had as many as 50 people in here standing, but now we are limited to about 20 at the most.
“The rent still needs to be paid and the bills and my staff – it has been very, very difficult.
“We have to ramp up takeaways to give us the money we need to survive, we will do click and collect and do deliveries twice a week and see how it goes.”
John would like to see the government offer more financial support to business owners in the light of the tougher restrictions.
The 58-year-old said: “Even if it is just help paying staff it is better than nothing, just something to relieve the burden.”