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Shop Local: Independent shops in Barking ‘struggling’ to recover as Covid-19 restrictions hit trade hard

PUBLISHED: 09:49 21 October 2020 | UPDATED: 09:55 21 October 2020

Tj Fabrics shopkeeper Lola Tamakloe fears she may be forced to close if trade doesn't pick up soon. Picture: Andrew Brookes

Tj Fabrics shopkeeper Lola Tamakloe fears she may be forced to close if trade doesn't pick up soon. Picture: Andrew Brookes

Archant

The Post is today launching a campaign in support of the borough’s high street shops, which have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic on top of challenges such as expensive rents, changing consumer habits and the rise of online shopping.

Shop LocalShop Local

Our high streets are the life blood of our communities, but they are in trouble and need our support to ensure they are still here next year.

We are going out and talking to local independent traders to tell their stories.

Behind the counter of these shops are hard-working people providing for their families and putting smiles on faces of their customers.

But for many of them, trade and footfall has not recovered after lockdown and they are struggling to stay afloat.

Some of the colourful goods on offer at Tj Fabrics. Picture: Andrew BrookesSome of the colourful goods on offer at Tj Fabrics. Picture: Andrew Brookes

There are many things we cannot solve, but we can do our bit to help these local businesses out – and encourage you to support them, too.

By choosing to #ShopLocal you can make a difference.

Independent shopkeepers in Barking town centre say their businesses are struggling to recover after lockdown - and ongoing Covid-19 restrictions are making matters worse.

People being less willing to spend money, combined with social distancing restrictions, has meant customers haven’t returned since reopening.

Tj Fabrics at 17 East Street, Barking. Picture: Andrew BrookesTj Fabrics at 17 East Street, Barking. Picture: Andrew Brookes

Mother-of-one Lola Tamakloe sells party and event wear - including wigs, hats, clothing, bags and jewellery – at her East Street shop Tj Fabrics.

“Things have not been going as before,” she said.

“Right now I’m struggling - whatever I sell I save to pay the rent.”

She is already selling items at the price she bought them, reducing her profit margin to zero, in hope of boosting sales - but still no one is buying.

A selection of tasty treats available at Amirah Cakes and Bakes. Picture: Andrew BrookesA selection of tasty treats available at Amirah Cakes and Bakes. Picture: Andrew Brookes

The shop is entirely dependent on customers coming through the door - “I don’t know how to do a website” - and Ms Tamakloe felt trade was unlikely to improve over the Christmas period.

“If it is to continue like this, things will not pick up,” she said.

“People are afraid of each other.... My customers need to try things before they buy, but I don’t want them to try it (because of Covid).

“I don’t want to lie down, this makes me happy – although the money is not coming, I still think the money will come. It’s very stressful.”

Amirah Cakes and Bakes at 11 London Road, Barking. Picture: Andrew BrookesAmirah Cakes and Bakes at 11 London Road, Barking. Picture: Andrew Brookes

Ms Tamakloe opened the shop about a year ago to provide - and set an example - for her 16-year-old son after previously trading at the Barking market.

She moved into a shop space at 17 East Street after she lost her job as a carer because of health issues.

“I didn’t want my son to see me sitting at home, I want him to be someone very important and I want to be going out every day for him to see that you have to work so you have money,” Ms Tamakloe said.

But now she fears she will lose her shop - and doesn’t know what she would do if she does.

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“This rent now, I’m not making it, but I’m afraid to lose this shop because this is the high street and it’s difficult to get a shop,” Ms Tamakloe said.

“To get another shop, they need a deposit and I won’t have that deposit to give again.”

Ms Tamakloe wants customers to remember things will eventually become more normal again and to shop now when it’s needed most.

“You still need to encourage them that it will be better so come in and take a look – you don’t pay money to look,” Ms Tamakloe said.

“If you think you don’t need it now, you may need it later – and maybe later you’re looking for it and it’s not there again.”

Meanwhile, in nearby London Road, Amirah Cakes and Bakes has also found demand for its good has plummeted since the pandemic began.

Amirah Khan opened her shop three years ago but admits “I don’t think it’ll go for too long” in the current situation.

“Before coronavirus, I had wedding cakes, birthday cakes, a lot of orders,” she said.

“But now, the first thing they say is ‘we’re broke, we’re not allowed to do big parties’, so they come in and take the small ones.

“Before, if it was like 100 people, now I’m down 20 to 30 people.”

Before lockdown, the main cake display at the shop would often be empty by the afternoon - on the day she spoke to the Post last week, only one had been sold.

“You can imagine the difference that makes,” Ms Khan added.

Another challenge is that most of her goods are perishable and baked fresh, which means they must be sold within a few days or go to waste.

Ms Khan also bakes cakes to order, but her sales are almost entirely from walk-in customers at the moment.

“They can ring me or come in person (to make an order), but now they are not - my phone doesn’t ring a lot,” she said.

Ms Khan said whether or not trade improves in the lead-up to Christmas will depend on the restrictions that are in place.

She expected London being upgraded to Tier 2 Covid-19 restrictions to further hurt business.

“Before that, there was some business in that situation, with people going to visit other people and buying sweets or cakes or other things to take,” she said.

“They had started doing that and I thought maybe, maybe, it will go better, but now it means it’s going to go more down.”

Visit amirahcakes.co.uk to see the range of cakes available to order.

Call 020 8591 2228 or visit the shop at 11 London Road, Barking to place an order.

Next week will be focusing on Heathway, Dagenham. If you have an independent shop there and would like a mention and to tell your story, contact andrew.brookes@archant.co.uk


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