Hackney businesses wish for 'some relief' after drop in Christmas sales due to omicron

Church Street was empty during the week just before Christmas 

Church Street was empty during the week just before Christmas - Credit: Heidi Early

Hackney businesses are struggling this winter as high streets empty due to rising Covid cases, the emergence of Omicron and staff shortages. 

Heidi Early, co-owner of Stoke Newington card shop Earlybird Designs, couldn't believe how quiet it was on Church Street last week.

"Yes, it’s really hard," she said. 

"We are one member of staff down due to Covid and although that doesn’t sound like a lot, it is when we only have three employees. 

"Takings have dropped."

Speaking on December 22, Heidi said sales were down by about 40 per cent when compared to the usual takings seen in the the run up to Christmas.

She added that Church Street road restrictions, introduced as part of the Stoke Newington's low traffic neighbourhood, were "without doubt having an impact too". 

The scheme prevents through traffic from passing through Church Street from 7am to 7pm. 

Heidi told the Gazette: "It’s probably the hardest time in our 18 years of being on the street that we’ve ever experienced.

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"We are so so grateful to the massive support we have from our regulars but we are missing out on the usual level of passing trade."

Co-owner of Stoke Newington Church Street shop Earlybird Designs, Heidi Early encourages residents to shop local, not just...

Co-owner of Stoke Newington Church Street shop Earlybird Designs, Heidi Early encourages residents to shop local, not just for Christmas but for life. Picture: Colum O'Dwyer - Credit: Colum O'Dwyer

Heidi said she was grateful the shop was open, unlike this time last year: "The pubs and restaurants are really suffering because people don’t want to risk socialising."

"[And] If they suffer, we suffer because it all works together.

"People are not making a day out of Christmas shopping, eating, drinking, meeting friends. They’re in or out back home as fast as they can and who can blame them?"

Other business owners like David Moore, who runs Stoke Newington's Cut and Run Hair, are also being affected by staff shortages due to the spread of Omicron.

Prime minister Boris Johnson will be presented with the latest Covid data by government scientific advisors today (December 27).

He will be assessing the data to determine whether to import new Covid restrictions - with several limiting social interactions implemented in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales on Boxing Day. 

David said: "We actually have been doing exceptionally well this year, but the familiar winter feeling set in last week when four out of five of us at the shop, including my wife and I, caught Covid and had to clear our books during the busiest period of the year. 

David and his wife have been running the salon - now down to a solitary stylist - for three years. 

"She is actually relatively new, and is manning the shop alone - bless her.

"Who knows what will happen post Christmas, let’s hope for some relief."

John Nolan, co-owner of The Glory pub and performance venue on Kingsland Road, said that December "started well" but weekly trade dropped by 70pc "almost immediately" after the government announced social limiting measures.

He added: "We’ve been left up in the air as regards to opening after Christmas which means our staff are left in limbo, along with all the performers and DJ’s we hire, along with stock sat on the shelves and an uncertain New Year's eve and beyond.

"The initial grants of up to £6,000 are welcome but won’t touch the sides of costs we’re facing from early January onwards.

"Hospitality needs a support package that goes beyond the initial grant."

A man walks past a largely empty restaurant in central London

A man walks past a largely empty restaurant in central London - Credit: PA

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has pledged £1billion in support for businesses impacted by Omicron, including one-off grants of £6,000 for those in hospitality.

The chancellor said on December 21: "We recognise that the spread of the Omicron variant means businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors are facing huge uncertainty, at a crucial time.

The £1bn of support also includes the reintroduction of the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme and additional funding released through the Culture Recovery Fund.

In terms of the picture locally, Hackney continues to experience a high number of Omicron cases.

On the week ending December 18, cases were up by 240pc in the borough - rising from 746 to 2559 cases per 100,000 people.