By John Bray
BBC News, West Midlands
Image descriptionBilston, in the borough of Wolverhampton, has a population of more than 25,000
Starting Monday April 12th, UK high street businesses will be able to welcome customers through their doors again after lockdown restrictions are relaxed.
The BBC was in Bilston, a market town on the outskirts of Wolverhampton, to talk to six small business owners about their prospects for a challenging 12 months and to measure optimism.
“I think it’s going to be a good year.”
Image descriptionRochelle Woolery runs a clothing store in town
Rochelle Woolery opened her clothing store A Bit of Me in late October. Less than a week later, their doors closed when Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for the second national lockdown.
“I kind of expected it,” said the 32-year-old. “Obviously it was a gutting, but it was either you quit and give up, or go ahead with click-and-collect and social media and do the best you can.
“It was obviously difficult, as it was for everyone, but I used a lot of social media – Facebook, Instagram – and I’m getting my website ready too. That really helped. I upload outfits to social media, I model them myself I think that’s a better way to advertise your clothes and it sells.
“Of course things could be better, but it wasn’t the worst. I’ve definitely had my lost days, 100%, but I think I just tend to be positive. Hard times never last, right? So just look ahead I feel positive about 2021. I think it will be a good year. “
“I keep getting asked when you will be back.”
Image descriptionKris Poole has been the owner of Krispink Tattoo Studio since 2018
Tattoo artist Kris Poole is ready to welcome clients back to his studio – but they need to be aware that the world has changed.
“Some customers don’t understand that there are rules and regulations that I have to follow,” he said.
“I keep getting questions, ‘When are you back? When are you back? When are you back?’ I’m ready, ready to come back and have started booking people. “
How did he find life in a pandemic?
“The last 12 months to start with, I’ve been honest, a little bit depressing. I didn’t know what was going on, bills wise and stuff like that.
“Luckily I put some money aside because we heard it [lockdown] came. Then you get used to it, beautiful summer, and then it went back to work and off again. Then back again for another month and off again.
“Now I think we’ve got to a point where a lot of people are used to being more at home. And that’s their new norm. Like me, really, I think. We got the grants, which helped a lot Has.”
“We are very happy that our doors are opening again.”
Image descriptionSun Kaur is Operations Manager at The Moby Shop
Sun Kaur describes high street life as “chaotic” for the past 12 months and was frustrated that her business was not viewed as “essential”.
“For us as a tech store, it was very disappointing to know that the government can’t see us as an essential store in the 21st century,” she said.
“So many people are working from home these days and they need their laptops, cell phones, repaired and up to date to keep working.
“As a company, like many other companies here on Main Street, it has had a tremendous impact on us, but we had to be pretty optimistic, and we’re lucky that not only have we had financial support to be able to put some funds into that Stuck business yourself.
“It was very difficult because we had to run a click-and-collect service that didn’t really allow our customers to go in that freely to increase our sales.
“We are very excited to have our doors reopened and it will be nice to see some of our regular customers.”
“We like to review our customers”
Image descriptionJag Sandhus towel stand had to be closed during the lockdown
Bilston born market trader Jag Sandhu is proud of his hometown.
“Bilston is a little gem in the jewel of the city of Wolverhampton,” he said. “Bilston is a beautiful church and the people are friendly. With Bilston, you know what you’re getting. They tell you what it is like, there is no air or grace.”
And he hopes the city’s market will play a central role in the recovery from the pandemic.
“Merchants don’t just serve. They actually ask customers how they’re doing, and it might start someone’s day.
“It’s not just about the money. We like to review our customers. So we just say,” Come back, we’re open and really look forward to a bright future. “
Financially it was a difficult 12 months.
“Fortunately we had a lot of help from the government. We had a lot of support from the Council in the form of grants. I think if these grants weren’t there we would be in serious financial trouble.
“Wolverhampton Council has frozen rents for anyone who doesn’t act. I know some councils haven’t, which has been a huge help. So it just helped us survive and open up and do our business there to have.”
“I feel positive, I am confident. There are a lot of houses being built in Bilston so I think the future is good for us. I’m just looking forward to coming back and seeing all of my regular customers again.”
“We were just holding onto the skin of our teeth.”
Image descriptionRen Collabella’s hair business has been in Bilston for 30 years
Barber Ren Collabella remembers Bilston as a “busy little town” and believes those days can return after the pandemic.
“The last 12 months have been just amazing for us and everyone else to be honest,” he said.
“My heart goes out to everyone who has lost loved ones because I think there is nothing more important than that. Fortunately, our family and our elderly parents have managed to stay safe. For us this is a blessing.”
Image descriptionThe dealers on Bilston High Street are poised to emerge from a third national lockdown
The stylist said the store was “fragmented and so insecure” because of the lockdowns.
“Financially, we’ve got some grants and that has helped us so far. However, you know that utility bills and the internet and all other expenses stayed the same. We were just holding onto the skin of our teeth.
“My hopes for 2021 are that the numbers will stay low, people will use their common sense, try to stick to ground rules, and we could see why. I feel positive, I like to think I’m a positive person am, but I have my fears behind it. “
“It was tough, but I’ve been doing it for 45 years.”
Image descriptionLee Nicholls has been a household name at Bilston Market for 45 years
For more than a century, five generations of Lee Nicholls’ family have run a stall at Bilston Market.
“We have stood the test of time, you might say, but we’re moving on. Bilston is fantastic. It’s been good for us over the years. They are down to earth, very ordinary people. They like a deal like we all do, they tell you how it is, straight to the point. “
The greengrocer was able to stay open during the pandemic.
“It wasn’t that bad until Christmas, but the last lockdown had a massive impact on our trade. It slowed it down, but we just keep going – it’s all we can do.”
“In May we were the only open booth, but people have slowly started coming back and I think about eight of us are now working.
“The May custom was awful, awful, really bad. You could walk for 20 minutes and not see a person in town.
“It was tough but I’ve been doing it for 45 years so I know about the ups and downs.
“We hope that more stallholders will come back, get a full market again, and things will slowly come back.”
“Bilston businesses are very resilient”
Image descriptionSimon Archer is the manager of the Bilston Business Improvement District
Simon Archer’s job as manager of the Bilston Improvement District is to promote the city as a shopping destination.
“The last 12 months have been a real challenge,” he admits.
“I have to say the business in Bilston is very resilient. We have a lot of independents who have been here for a few years and we keep our fingers crossed we will come out the other side.”
“The help they received from the government has been a real boost because I think without it some of them would not have gotten away unscathed and could have reopened after the lockdown.
“We have so many things ahead of us in Bilston. We have the market, inside and outside, we have free parking, we are on a subway line. There are so many things that come when we come.” With the lockdown on the other hand, there are plenty of reasons for people to come to Bilston and shop. It’s a city with a lot of character and I think we’ll see that in the next few months. ”
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