Despite tough times for many, businesses in Clapham are showing that daily life need not go ‘up the junction’ – to quote 1970s south London band Squeeze.
The Junction Business Improvement District (BID) continues to support more than 420 businesses with advice on challenges such as keeping premises and staff safe, online seminars covering staffing issues, as well as a digital campaign through its website, Click & Collect initiatives and Apps connecting businesses and customers.
Businesses report that the consumer trend has pivotted towards small, independent shops. BID members hope that this shift is encouraging for the future of the High Street and rebuilding the local economy.
“Foodwise, the little shops that have previously struggled have gained a lot of new customers,” says Junction BID chairman Anthony Laban. “We hope those customers who now recognise how vital our little shops are will come back heavily in the aftermath of this.”
The BID plans to launch two Apps – one to develop loyalty schemes and exclusive deals for consumers, and another for BID stakeholders, helping users discover new promotions and competitions.
It has also teamed up with ShopAppy.com to promote an online local delivery service for businesses and customers within a two mile radius of Clapham Junction station.
Social distancing measures have prompted the cancellation of the 2020 social calendar. Event such as ‘Lavender in June’, to coincide with the Chelsea Flower Show, and VE Day anniversary celebrations, have been replaced with remote digital activities, virtual pub nights and online fitness and wellbeing sessions.
Communication and information have been challenging, says Mr Laban. People are asking questions to which the answer always seems to be ‘I don’t know’, especially about furloughing – how it will work, how salaries are paid. This is frustrating for an area where for so many businesses ‘cashflow is king’.
The positives, however, are there to be found. Shopping at smaller businesses has been a revelation for many people enjoying fresh produce and community spirit.
“Business owners are taking it on the chin and going ‘OK let’s do this and let’s do it with pride’,” claims Mr Laban, who has had to close his own business, the Mint Hair London hair salon.
Mr Laban is hopeful that this attitude will sustain people in repairing their businesses after the crisis is over – which, for his salon, has further connotations.
“There’ll be an awful lot of self-hairdressing and brutal haircuts, and we’ll be doing a lot of repair,” he jokes.
The lockdown puts a different pressure on Source Bulk Foods, according to managing director Makayla Drummond-May, who has had to hire new staff, order in large amounts of stock to deal with soaring demand, and roll out a Click & Collect service.
Extra staff were required when staple foods started flying off shelves, and to monitor the door, now only three customers are allowed in at a time.
“To train staff under social distancing has been challenging because you can’t get close to show them things,” says Ms Drummond-May.
People’s shopping habits have changed towards home baking. Ms Drummond-May reports her top-selling items are baker’s flour, plain flour and whole-wheat flour.
Customers have sought out natural health remedies, buying up the claimed immunity-boosting Camu Camu powder and kilos of turmeric powder.
While cautious of a potential ripple effect in productivity down supply chains, as suppliers can’t keep up with demand, or are themselves affected by social distancing and attrition from illness, Ms Drummond-May notes a positive new energy.
“Social distancing makes you more aware of people around you,” she said. One customer used his Click & Collect order to deliver as gift bags to nurses living on his street.
Another Northcote Road business which continues to trade is family-run deli and cheese shop Hamish Johnston.
The shop, which has been in Battersea for more than 25 years and sells 150 different cheeses, has created a customer counter in front of the entrance, and takes phone orders for home deliveries, which are increasing by the day.
“It’s much more relaxing for the customer not to be in that unnerving environment when they’re bouncing around off other customers,” said retail manager Mr Collins.
The shop’s policy of hiring young kids on student holidays means it is already well ensconced into the community fabric. That tight-knit spirit has been galvanised over the past weeks.
One customer who runs a micro gin distillery even supplied the shop with hand sanitiser after he switched production to help with the demand – Mr Collins reported that, pleasingly, it smells exactly like gin.
“There’s more of a pulling together and a wartime spirit,” says Mr Collins. “It’s quite touching, jumping on the bicycle and going around to see some of our elderly customers to drop off provisions, many of them are in pretty tricky scenarios.”
All image credits: The Junction BID.