The small businesses fighting back after losing lunchtime trade

Hungry office workers queuing for food is something you would see every day if you walked through Cardiff’s Royal Arcade.

They were more than prepared to wait patiently for a sizeable chunk of their lunch hour outside Fresh, the baguette bar, to get their freshly-prepared sandwiches or salads to take back to their offices.

Every time you walked past – or stood in the queue yourself for your favourite takeaway lunch – you couldn’t help but think that Sam Halewood and Gareth Lawton, the couple who opened the baguette shop, had stumbled onto the perfect recipe for success.

The shop is used to having queues of people outside
(Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)

However, it’s been a different story this year. Like many other sandwich shops, market stalls and small traders, business has suffered due to the Covid pandemic, which has led to huge numbers of people working from home, making the lunchtime office trade almost non-existent.

Fresh closed for five and a half months and Sam and Gareth used the time to decorate the shop and change their menu.

Sam said: “We were working such long days which is great but it was killing us. We lost a lot of money but we just used our time wisely and re-decorated the store.

“The last few weeks were great and we thought that things were starting to get back to normal but the fire-break lockdown really affected us.”

However, they are adamant that the business they build up will not be lost.

“Business went really quiet but we’re still busy so we will survive this. We’re so lucky that people know who we are and they continue to support us which is great.

“Financially though this year we’ve had to write off which has been tough but what can we do?”

Sam is looking at the future positively and says they are lucky the business is making enough to survive.

They try not to look negatively on the situation and when they returned after the first lockdown, the support from their customers reaffirmed their belief that they will survive.

“The support that we’ve had has been amazing. A lot of our customers have had to work from home but they still make the effort to come in and buy lunch when they can.

“There’s one customer who comes in every week and picks up lunch for the rest of his office and drops it to each of their homes.

“That support made us realise that we will survive this and we’re lucky to have the support that we do.

“I hope people will continue to support local businesses though and not just us, but there are a number of businesses struggling.

“Landlords can also help like ours have done by offering us reduced rates at the moment. We hope things will get better soon.”

Many other businesses have been forced to close, make staff redundant or adapt the way in which they operate.

Cardiff’s Queen Street, once a bustling high street, has a number of vacant properties.

As work patterns continue to change and people continue to work from home, the future for many businesses is unclear.

Independent businesses in Cardiff city centre have lost a lot of footfall due to people staying at home.

Many say they are doing just about enough to pay their bills but aren’t making any profit.

Rosie Smith, is the owner of Shelflife, a not-for-profit radical bookshop, specialising in feminist, queer and anti-racism publications.

The former graphic designer started the business as a pop-up at a friend’s beer and record shop but took the plunge and opened up her own shop.

The bookstore is located in the Castle Emporium
(Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)

Nestled in the Castle Emporium and surrounded by a number of independent traders, Rosie said local lockdown restrictions have impacted her business.

She said: “We opened in August of this year and it was a good time because people were heading back out and things seemed to be going back to normal.

“It was a great time to do it and it was an exciting new business. September was also really busy and those two months were really good to us.

“The local lockdown restrictions really affected us. I didn’t realise just how many people travel in to Cardiff for work and pleasure so October was really tough for us.

“Luckily, we have a good social media following and people have helped and supported us through these hard times.”

Rosie is encouraging people to support local businesses
(Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)

When the news of the two-week fire-break lockdown was announced, Rosie had to take all of the stock home and she began selling online.

But the future is uncertain and Rosie said she is living with anxiety.

She said: “I’m living with a lot of anxiety right now especially financially. January and February are generally quieter as people have spent a lot at Christmas so if there’s another lockdown at that time, it will be tough.

“It means that we need to make sure that people know we’re still here, we’re still trading and we will have to adapt.

“We’re thinking of selling vouchers and providing online events just to keep people’s morale up. So many people have already lost their jobs so I feel bad encouraging people to support us.”

Rosie also has ‘boycott Amazon’ stickers plastered over the till It’s in a bid to encourage readers to buy books from local businesses rather than ordering off Amazon..

Rosie said people have adapted to support local businesses
(Image: Mark Lewis)

She added: “There’s a stat that says one in every two books in the UK is bought on Amazon.

“If anything good has come out of the pandemic, it’s that people are supporting local businesses and helping our communities.

“The stickers are there to encourage people to get out of habits and raising awareness of how some big companies operate.

“It would be great for people to do their best and shop local when they can so that independent businesses can continue to survive.”

Eleri Wyn, owner of Driftwood Designs, in Castle Arcade, was set to open her first store in Cardiff on March 24, 2020.

The business had to change their plans after the UK went into lockdown
(Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)

The popular shop originally opened in Abersytwyth, sells cards, posters frames designed by a Welsh artist.

Sadly, her plans had to be scrapped as the UK went in to lockdown on March 23.

Eleri said: “We thought we had it timed it perfectly with Easter coming up and the summer holidays so that the people of Cardiff could get to know us.

“We eventually opened sometime in June and I had to set up the shop myself. There are so many things we wanted to do to promote the business such as painting the windows, which we just haven’t been able to do.

It’s disappointing because we missed out on the Eisteddfod so all we can do is focus on the short term rather than the long term.

“August was a great month because we started hitting our targets as people were out and about. Each week in September, we just saw our numbers go down and down.”

Selling online has helped the business get through tough times
(Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)
The business is doing everything they can to tick over and survive
(Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)

The business also sells online and Eleri said this has helped the business during the firebreak lockdown.

She said she has been forced to look at how the business can keep ticking over rather than looking at long term goals.

Eleri added: “You’re just looking at how you can survive and keep your business going. You have to think outside the box and adapt your business.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we have another lockdown in the future and if that takes to Easter, it will basically be a whole year of just surviving.

“I’m lucky because the other businesses keep an eye on each other but there are days when I think ‘how do I get through this?’

“It’s hard to keep that motivation high and it’s so disheartening when you’re trying so hard to make your business work but things are out of your hands.”

Another business that has benefited from being able to sell merchandise online is Galactic Attic.

The shop sells vintage toys and comics
(Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)

Spiro Farrugia, owner of the he vintage toy and comic shop located in High Street Arcade, believes businesses which have no online presence have struggled during the pandemic.

He said: “The government provided us with grants which made things a lot easier for us as a business. Lockdown meant we lost a lot of footfall, there were no tourists coming in so we focused on our online trade.

“It was inevitable we would have a second lockdown and this time the government haven’t helped us.

“The problem is we still have to pay rents and rates for our shop but when we sell online we have to pay fees and rates there also so you’re hit from both angles.

“The thing people have missed out on is the experience of visiting the store and admiring the stock so I know people are upset they’ve missed out on that interaction.”

Spiro has a loyal customer base who purchase items regularly online
(Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)

Spiro says he feels sorry for a number of independent traders in the arcade who have been hit by the lockdown.

A number of these are nail bars and wedding dress shops, which don’t have the luxury of selling online and rely on physical contact.

“It has played on my mind that one day we just won’t be able to open especially with the uncertainty of the future,” Spiro said.

“The shop is back open but we’re not sure how much stock to keep but we obviously still have to purchase things so we lose out on a lot of sales momentum.

“Right now things work in a different way as people are confident and then we’re hit with another lockdown. We need to have a stable period to get momentum going.

“The next few months are definitely going to be tricky as the uncertainty continues.”

WalesOnline – Cardiff