When Riaz and Sedef Ahmad opened their specialist rug shop in April last year it was a chance to turn a passion into a full-time enterprise.
The couple sell fairly traded, handcrafted products and had planned to expand the business with the introduction of workshops to revive weaving as a trade in the UK, but the impact of lockdown measures mean they are now fighting to keep their business afloat.
Having been in operation for less than a year, the business owners were not eligible for most of the government support streams available. They are still waiting to hear about an application for a bounce back loan but are worried about debt piling up.
“If we do not get the support we need then we will have no choice but to close the shop,” said Riaz. “I won’t be able to sustain it for very long.”
Speaking to Bristol24/7 two weeks after reopening Shah’s on Fishponds Road, he said trade has been non-existent since the lockdown and he is desperately hoping it will pick up in the coming months.
A former Airbus employee, Riaz followed his dream of trading hand-crafted rugs and products from his home province in Pakistan, as well as places such as Nepal and Azerbaijan, when he returned to Bristol after his father’s death.
When they opened the shop, he and Sedef commissioned a special hand-crafted rug depicting the Clifton Suspension Bridge, which was made by three sisters who are skilled weavers in Bamiyan in Afghanistan. It now hangs in pride of place in Shah’s as a lasting celebration of the traditional craftwork and Sedef’s home city, Bristol.
Alongside the vast selection of rugs, they also sell a range of gemstone jewellery, tapestry, cushions and bags, all handmade and carefully sourced.
Riaz is not prepared to give up yet but is urging consumers to support their local high streets to keep them alive in the wake of a crisis that has been devastating for many and already seen many traders big and small close their doors.
The small business is adapting in response to changing conditions and has reduced shop opening hours to ensure thorough cleaning procedures can be followed. It is also offering free deliveries on any items bought online.
“The items we sell are not just any sort of products, they are hand-crafted products. It’s not just a business, it’s a passion,” says Riaz, who prides himself on offering a personal, experienced service and sourcing products directly from the weavers and craftspeople who maintain high ethical standards.
“I want to take this to the next level and one idea was to reignite interest in the trade in this country and start a workshop, bringing in skilled workers to run it,” he says. “But none of that can happen at the moment. Business had been picking up slowly over the months, but since the pandemic started, it’s gone down.
“The other issue with the government support available is that it is not continuous, yet the impact of this pandemic will be felt long afterwards.
“I’m really looking for any support available to make the business sustainable because when you are struggling with cash flow, you have nothing extra to invest.”
The owners of Shah’s say they are determined to do all they can to carry on and hope customers will be encouraged to support local businesses as they work to rebuild in the wake of the pandemic.
All photos by Ellie Pipe