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How indie businesses are coping with coronavirus

By aphra evans, Tuesday Mar 17, 2020

Today, chancellor Rishi Sunak is due to announce how the government will support pubs, clubs, and theatres which the public has been told to stay away from.

The announcement will come amid outrage that Boris Johnson has not asked these businesses to close, which means they will not be able to claim insurance payouts.

Until then, Bristol’s businesses – particularly the more vulnerable independents – are left in the lurch.

Bristol’s Independent District on Gloucester Road has one of the highest concentrations of independent businesses in the city.

Many business owners there are taking measures such as additional cleaning and only accepting card payments while they wait for further news, such as the Gallimaufry.

Alice Rolfe is an illustrator who runs Paper Plane on Gloucester Road, which sells locally handmade gifts from over 50 small indie creative businesses.

“We are going to try to stay open for as long as we can but will need to be creative about how we sell,” she says.

“We’ll sell through a closed door, taking orders and passing them through the door, while allowing customers to place orders via email and having set delivery and collection days.

“All of our staff and makers are self-employed and this is going to hit us all really hard. We need to do whatever we can to support them by continuing to trade.”

It was almost business as usual, she says, until the prime minister’s announcement yesterday.

“In the week running up to the announcement yesterday, the shop was still really busy, with lots of people out buying Mother’s Day cards and gifts. We weren’t sure if people were buying things before the inevitable or they weren’t really worried about it, but today has been very quiet in comparison. We expect it to only get quieter.”



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On the bright side, she says the public seem to be conscious of the fact that supporting independent businesses at this challenging time could be the key to their survival.

“Many of our customers seem really aware that we are an independent business supporting over 50 local independent makers. We’re all self-employed and everyone is understanding we are entering a very challenging time,” says Alice. “I’ve been asking how they would feel if they saw tape on the floor measuring a one metre distance from the till and they all say they would understand and think it’s fine.”

Alice’s shop Paper Plane on Gloucester Road

In these difficult times, she urges customers to consider buying online from small businesses to support the local economy.

“We will all be ordering online soon, but rather going to the big companies, check with the small ones first. Paper Plane is now delivering, something we’ve never done before and we will do what ever we can to keep trading safely.”

They are also offering vouchers which customers can buy now and redeem once the crisis has passed, which will help Paper Plane weather the storm financially.

In a similar vein, food deals app Wriggle has launched an initiative called Indie Kitty to help small businesses during the pandemic. Customers can buy a voucher for a future drink or meal at local restaurants now, which will help businesses survive until footfall is back to normal. Wriggle will waive their fees on every voucher bought so that all the money goes directly to restaurants.

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Main photo by Aphra Evans.

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