It’s impossible to underestimate the devastating impact COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdown has had on independent businesses. The boutiques, breweries and bars that form the lifeblood of our community were forced to shut their doors four months ago, with many never to open again. But with some semblance of normality returning to the high street, we decided it was time for a catch up with some of Notts’ independents to find out how they’ve coped during lockdown, and the steps they’ve taken to re-open safely…
Studio 34, Avenue C, Sneinton Market, NG1 1DW
The change of pace and having my family around meant that lockdown started off okay for me. I’m a bit of a hermit, so the idea of not having to see people really appealed! But the lack of childcare and stockists being shut for three months made things more difficult, and meant the time I actually had to work was minimal. Income has been severely impacted and doesn’t look like returning to anywhere near what it was pre-COVID until social distancing measures are lifted. But I’ve got my eye on other stuff and always happy to change direction if need be.
Online sales have been up throughout and not just because people couldn't get to the shops! Customers have been vocal about their desire to have small businesses still here after all of this.
I wanted to do something to help people through so I set up a free, virtual art club. It was a very natural process; there was no question about me doing it – I knew I had to. Lots of people advised me to "monetise" it but that felt entirely wrong to me. I wanted it to be accessible to as many people as possible that needed the support. It provided a distraction, skills were learnt, friendships were made and confidence built.
Our collective mental health is fragile right now so art, music and the usual message of ‘look after each other’ will help us through.
21 Carlton Street, Hockley, NG1
After the initial shock of learning that our business could literally be closed down overnight, all of our efforts went into making sure our staff understood what was happening and that their jobs were secure. The most critical thing was to keep our spending to an absolute minimum, and being able to furlough our team certainly helped. There were stressful times but the financial support from the Government and Nottingham City Council was critical in allowing us to support our staff and prepare for reopening.
We began by opening as take-away only, using our side windows to serve customers, selling just coffee, cake and sandwiches. Then, as we started to think about reopening, we knew footfall would be down so we would have to fight harder to get new customers. Although it was a huge decision, we decided to change our name from Hartley’s to Hockley Kitchen.
We wanted to move on from being a sandwich shop to offer a broader range of food, and to create a much warmer and more inviting space using fresh colours and vintage lights. As part of the brand change we also had a great opportunity to link up with the guys from Outpost Coffee roasters, and introduce a new exclusive house blend. The good news is so far we’ve had a very positive reaction from customers to the new space.
We have had a lot of customers saying how they are trying to support independents where they can, and this is obviously crucial for an area like Hockley.
Bikes Love You
23 Carlton Road, NG3 2FB
Lockdown was tough for everyone, so we wanted to make sure we were helping out during that time, which is why we started doing the donation-based bike servicing in Sneinton Market. It wasn’t just for key workers, but for anyone travelling by bike. There was high demand for that, which kept our minds in a good place, as we knew we were doing something positive by providing a safe and accessible service for those who needed it. We used the donations to invest in the Bikes Love You shop on Carlton Road so it really is a community-focused bike workshop, created by the community itself.
There was definitely an increase in people cycling during lockdown. Bikes are a safe, joyful, healthy, quick, clean and inexpensive way to travel around, and a lot of people have really seen the benefits lately. It’s always nice talking to people about their positive stories connected to cycling, especially those who have recently got back into it. It just makes it even better to get their bikes fixed up so they can continue to discover the benefits.
With bike repairs largely happening from our shop, it’s been easy to put responsible social distancing measures in place. We obviously use hand sanitizer, and sanitize the bikes themselves. We were helped a lot by the team that runs Sneinton’s Saturday Markets – they put a really good system in place. That, and the fact that we were trading outside, meant that we had confidence, and so did our customers.
Art of Football
Unit 17 Avenue B, Sneinton Market, NG1 1DU
All of our design staff were asked to work from home as soon as we went into lockdown. After ensuring they all had computer equipment and internet access, they were then able to work throughout the whole period while maintaining proper social distancing rules. Being an online retailer, our sales have been relatively protected during lockdown, so we have been fortunate enough not to furlough or lay-off any staff. With many people turning to online shopping, we’ve actually had an increase in our online activity. After an initial delay, we’ve been able to move forward with a lease on a new London office with more confidence.
The main setbacks have been missed opportunities due to the events like the Euros and Olympics being postponed. The Olympics especially gave us the potential to move into new sports, but with them being rescheduled for next summer, we’ve just got more time to get organised! But we were able to take part in various charity initiatives by making and selling designs in aid of local charities The Robin Hood Fund and Scrubs for Nottingham.
We have been able to get some of the design team back in to work, although not all of them yet. Although we have worked well during the separation period, we are a young business full of ideas and being able to spark off each other is very important to us, to our creativity and to the sense of feeling part of something.
Unit 13, Avenue A, Sneinton Market, NG1 1DT
We’ve spent a lot of time during lockdown creating and painting on canvas, and digging out many, many photos from the past 35 years of graffiti art in Nottingham. We just tried to keep positive and create as much art as we could.
Overall, our European suppliers have been very helpful in taking a step back from expecting payment until we were able to re-open. But the rental costs and other service charges have been more difficult to deal with.
Things haven’t completely returned to normal since lockdown was lifted. There are less people around and, as a retail store, you have to think about how to make customers interested in coming to town.
Like many other businesses, we’ve been doing really well online during this crazy time, but we still want to be a retail store offering that real shopping experience.
We do want to say thank you to everyone that supported us during lockdown, and who continue to support us. It’s been really nice to see everyone getting behind local business.
31 Goose Gate, Hockley, NG1 1FE
The best explanation I can give for lockdown would be to say that the entire business – including all operations and staff – turned into a dormant volcano. Countless contingency plans were made and a job list slowly started to grow, but during the however-many weeks it eventually turned into, we were unable to see any of them through to completion until we had a firm re-opening date, at which point it became full-steam ahead to prepare for operations in a brave new world.
The obvious setback was the distinct lack of cash flow. Though we were able to utilise the grants available to us to cover our rent demands, other overheads also have to be paid. And with zero money coming into the business, it was an uncomfortable few months watching the bank balance go in one direction.
The main changes we’ve made post-lockdown have been to limit our capacity, restrict our opening hours and offer a markedly different style of service. Being table-service only has made it easier to comply with guidelines, and our cleaning routines have now become cleaning rituals. We’ve installed a host of automatic hand sanitizer stations through the bar, and the staff have all been provided with PPE.
We’ve put an immense amount of trust into our customers and that has been reciprocated with a fantastic amount of support and appreciation for what we’ve put into place. We can’t thank our customers enough, and it’s been so reassuring to see that the sense of community you see in this part of town hasn’t been quashed.
That being said, the hospitality industry is still in an incredibly difficult financial climate, and we’re very much in the thick of that. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to work out that a 50% capacity limit is likely to lead to a 50% reduction in sales, so we’re by no means out of the tunnel yet. We can see the light, absolutely, but we’ve still got some way to go to guarantee the future of the business.
12 Heathcote Street, NG1 3AA
It’s hard not to admit to having enjoyed the time off. It was the first time I’ve had ten days off work since I was sixteen, and it was nice to take a deep breath and think about things.
During lockdown we were unable to open at all and, even now post-lockdown, we have to think really carefully about the safest way to go forward with partial opening. We truly miss the live music and the events, but we have to do the right thing and hold off for a bit longer.
We did stay in touch with a few regulars and sold some of our leftover stock as well as a few cases of fresh craft beer to keep people stocked up at home. I personally kept a strict routine of a live-streamed DJ set on Facebook every single morning at 10am for the entirety of lockdown. It built up a really nice community spirit in the comments section. I ended these after 100 sets and many of the videos have had over 15,000 views. It was really rewarding to hear stories people sent in of how this regular morning mix helped them – I could easily write a whole article with the stories I’ve been told.
We are currently only operating outside as all of the health advice shows very low COVID transmission outdoors. This is for the safety of customers, as well as ourselves. Honestly, even though our space and opening hours are limited, we have been very busy and our regular and devoted customers have really shown courage and spirit to help keep us in business. The atmosphere on Heathcote Street is friendly, warm and safe, and I hope it stays this way.
14-16 Carlton St, NG1 1NN
Lockdown was stressful, of course. Paying attention to each Government update and ensuring staff got paid where there was so much uncertainty as to when furlough payments and grants would come in was difficult. But I’ve stayed positive, kept the staff informed throughout and tried to find different things to do with my time, like growing veg and exploring new areas of Notts.
The main setbacks have definitely been financial, both for me personally, the staff and the business. But even worse than that had been the handbrake it put on upcoming plans. If any business had a plan for 2020, it’s now become a plan for 2021 (hopefully).
We kept very active on social media to remind people that we were still here. Operating as a takeaway for seven of the lockdown weeks helped keep things ticking over, and it was nice to be able to talk to people (from a distance) while offering great beers and supporting local breweries.
Adapting to life post-lockdown has meant losing five tables – which is a third of our capacity. We’ve got a one-way system in and out, separate queues for male and female toilets, eight sanitizer stations, staff wearing PPE and screens on long tables. We’ve also increased cleaning, reduced opening hours and gone 100% table service.
Re-opening has gone better than expected, and every day has seen steady trade. Friday and Saturday nights obviously aren’t the same, but people seem happy to support bars again, and most of them read the signs and respect the rules.
‘The new normal’ is said a lot, but it certainly will happen. I think all bars’ capacities will remain reduced, and people will get used to table and app service and expect it more. I think it will reduce trade for a few years, but all I hope is that pubs and bars can maintain that community vibe, where people go for a chat, a laugh and a story.
9 Flying Horse Walk, NG1 2HN
We adapted pretty well when lockdown came in. We were already set up for online so we just directed everyone to the website, and a combination of mail order and local deliveries saw us through. We had to keep all the stock in the shop, as access to the stock room was limited, so the shop became a mini warehouse for a few months.
Despite the Government allowing us to open, we were forced to close the shop as the Council took the decision to close Flying Horse Walk. It’s fortunate that the website was already operational as that may have been game over otherwise.
Once the bars closed, everyone started drinking at home. Zoom beers became the new Friday after work drinks. In a sense I guess it brought the scene together a bit, with businesses helping each other out and drinkers supporting in any way they could.
We’re seeing a slow but steady increase in customers coming to the shop. We still aren’t letting anyone in, as we feel the shop is too small to allow social distancing so we’re encouraging click and collect or we can serve from the door.
I would like to see the Council relax the City Centre exclusion zone to allow drinking in the street. With outdoor drinking space at a premium this feels like an ideal time to make Nottingham more of a welcoming city. Being able to grab a can and sit in the Square without feeling like a criminal would be great.
In terms of the long-term impact, there will be closures – and we’ve already seen a few bars disappear. I suspect it’ll be a while before drinkers have the confidence to return to smaller places. I guess that’s good for us, but we don’t like seeing places struggle. We’re all in it together.
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