Shop Local: Chadwell Heath businesses on battling the challenges of coronavirus

Ersan Aygan, who owns Bon Appetit cafe. Picture: Nadja Noel

Ersan Aygan, who owns Bon Appetit cafe. Picture: Nadja Noel - Credit: Archant (taken by workie)

Chadwell Heath businesses are battling through the coronavirus pandemic despite uncertainty over their future.

Barry Blight, who works at Cycle King. Picture: Nadja Noel

Barry Blight, who works at Cycle King. Picture: Nadja Noel - Credit: Archant (taken by workie)

For some, the pandemic has given sales a surprise boost. For most, the ever-changing government restrictions have had a devastating impact on trade.

Independent traders on the High Road gave an insight into some of the challenges facing their businesses as part of this paper’s Shop Local campaign and as the country heads into a second, four-week lockdown.

Starting a new venture is a baptism of fire for most first-time retailers. Throw in a pandemic and the challenge is greater.

Former nurse Monica Nicoloff opened La Dunarre Romanian deli and grocery just before the first lockdown restrictions came in earlier this year.

Shop Local

Shop Local - Credit: Archant

After 20 years in nursing, Monica had been looking for a change.

She said: “I thought let’s do something else.” She smiled before saying: “If I was still a nurse I couldn’t imagine what life would be like.”

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The shop sells speciality Romanian meats, cheeses, cakes and groceries, including some potent looking Armenian brandy.

“It’s been difficult since we started,” Monica said. “When we opened people didn’t know us.

“It took a while but now we’re getting all sorts of people and nationalities come in here.”

She doesn’t regret the decision to open.

“It’s been incredibly hard,” she said. “Back in late January when we were making the decision I said to my husband; ‘The shop is ready, let’s do it.’ We are going to try to survive.”

It’s a sentiment shared by father and son team Ahmet and Ersan Aygan, owners of Bon Appetit Cafe.

Ersan said: “You’ve just got to keep trying and make the best of a bad situation.”

The pair have run the popular cafe for the past 13 years.

Recalling the early days of lockdown Ersan said: “It was awful. My dad and I looked at all the stacked tables and chairs and thought, ‘What are we going to do?’”

He takes a break from a brief lunchtime rush last week to joke with a regular before adding: “You’ve got to try and laugh otherwise everyone is just too tense.”

Business has been steady but slower than usual. December is normally a busy time for office Christmas lunches.

“Obviously this year it’s going to be different,” Ersan said.

But he remained upbeat.

“Just like most people, we’re uncertain about a lot of things especially with the new restrictions each week, but we’re still trading and doing something.”

Food shops and cafes have tended to fair better than most throughout the pandemic. But it’s a different story for those whose businesses depend on weddings and events.

“Compared to last year we’re more than 95 per cent down,” said Parvez Iqbal, manager of Miyas Boutique - a ladies clothing shop specialising in occasion wear and jewellery.

“The Asian wedding season and the two Eids that come up usually sets us up for the whole year.”

Hopes raised by the end of lockdown were soon dashed by the restrictions on groups.

Parvez said: “The first Eid after the lockdown looked like it would be ok but then the restrictions meant smaller groups.”

“We used to get the Mayfair venue send people to us for wedding clothes. People used to come in here on the way to the venue looking for outfits. Now, nothing.

“If things go on like this for another four or five months, I don’t think we can survive.”

Other traders in the High Road have seen business boom.

Cycle King joins the thousands of bike retailers who saw a rapid rise in demand at the outset of lockdown.

Barry Blight started working there in January and said: “It went literally from zero to crazy. I had a big learning curve.”

At one point queues snaked down the High Road, and demand is still high.

“It was mental,” Barry said. “We’ve got more bikes coming in now from our suppliers so we’re ready for Christmas.”

As the second lockdown begins this week, they will all be hoping the customers come back when it is over.