'Why can big firms still sell clothes while Government orders me to shut my independent Doncaster boutique?'

Businesswoman Angie Hoddart was full of optimism when she opened her boutique in a Doncaster village just over a year ago.

But 13 months on, after struggling through eight months of the coronavirus pandemic, she feels angry that there has been too little help for small businesses like hers compared to big corporations.

And with Christmas coming, she is one of a number of local stores preparing for a shortened Christmas rush – and urging residents to support local independent businesses.

Angie opened her Angie Lou Boutique in Tickhill in October – but just five months later she was forced to shut when lockdown was brought in to control coronavirus.

Angie Huddart at her boutique Angie Lou's in Tickhill. Picture Scott Merrylees

She said: “My pre-ordered stock for spring arrived in February – then lockdown happened in March.

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"I think fashion shops have been hit harder than most – if you’re a homeware shop, you can open all year round. This year, we will have a three week window where we’re allowed to open in December, then it’s the January sales. I’ve already committed to stock.

"It’s not a great situation

Angie Huddart at her boutique Angie Lou in Tickhill. Picture Scott Merrylees

"I started the business with no debt. Now I’ve got a £30,000 bounceback loan. It’s low interest, but I won’t end this with no debt. But I’m strong and resilient and customers love the lines that I do here.

"It’s not just me. There are other shops struggling.”

Angie is still managing to do some sales via her social media page, but is concerned that could bring a high cost in returns by customers who change their mind or get the wrong size.

She would like to see a voucher scheme brought in to help shops like hers, similar to the system that helped restaurants through Eat Out to Help Out in the summer.

File picture: Carl and Ron Bradley, pictured at their High Street Menswear store before the pandemic. Picture: NDFP-18-12-18-BradleyKnipe-1

But she feels it is unfair that big shops that sell items classed as essential are able to open and sell clothing, while she has to stay closed. She said a friend had told her she had been behind someone in a supermarket queue who spent £280 on gifts and clothing, which she did not regard as essentials

She has joined a national protest which has seen a number of independent stores turn their shop window mannequins away from the window – to represent the Government ‘turning its back’ on small businesses like hers.

She added: “I have hairdresser friends and beauty business owners who are also being hit hard. Many of my friends hairdressing business are older ladies who have been isolating since March – many ladies are not getting their beauty treatments as often as they did pre-lockdown.

“We are all just very small parts of a huge jigsaw that could see lots of businesses close.”

Tiffany - Ladies fashion in Doncaster

Sarah Scott, who runs the long-established Tiffany fashion store on Cleveland Street, is also urging shoppers to back local businesses.

Her store was due to re-open on December 2

Since the first lockdown, they have opened a full, transactional website, to increase their online presence.

She said: “I’m trying to remain optimistic and positive, but it’s been the hardest year on record in terms of people coming in. In terms of occasion wear, weddings have been written off. I’m hoping that families being able to meet over Christmas may help a little, that people may want a nice new dress, and that the next few weeks will bring a steady flow of customers."

Menswear store Bradley Knipe has been in Doncaster town centre since it was set up in 1962 by Ron Bradley and John Knipe

It is now run by Carl Bradley, Ron’s son.

He said it was vital that people backed their local shops in the coming weeks ahead of Christmas.

He said: “This year has been 20 weeks short in terms of trade for us — it’s not been an easy year. Government support was good, but the last four weeks of lockdown have not been as good, considering the trade we’ve lost, and it annoys me that supermarkets and some big businesses have been able to still sell clothes. I feel there is nowhere on earth safer than our shop.”

His shop has been doing click and collect and deliveries.

"Hopefully, the next few weeks will be as good or better than last year,” he added.

“You can’t get the service or get to understand the product on a website the way you can in a shop. It will be a big help if we get a Christmas rush.”

A Government spokesperson said all shops in England could reopen from December 2, regardless of the tier they are in.

The added: "The current restrictions were brought in to control the virus, protect the NHS and save lives. We know this continues to be a very difficult period for businesses, which is why we’ve provided an unprecedented package of economic support across the country since the start of the pandemic.”

Businesses can continue to access the Government’s loan schemes, now extended, defer VAT payments previously due in March, and receive business rates holidays, a moratorium on eviction for commercial tenants and the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme.

Government is also supporting closed businesses affected by restrictions through the Local Restrictions Support Grant, giving businesses that are forced to close due to national or local restrictions up to £3,000 per month.

• Retailers can seek further clarity in the current online government guidance: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/further-businesses-and-premises-to-close/closing-certain-businesses-and-venues-in-england#businesses-subject-to-restrictions

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.