'This could be the last straw' - Sunderland shop and gym owners lament 'yo-yoing' restrictions after Tier 4 announcement

Sunderland retailers have lamented the ‘yo-yoing’ covid restrictions they have faced as the city enters a de facto lockdown.

Wednesday, 30th December 2020, 9:03 pm
Retail and gyms react to Tier 4 annoucement

The North East has been placed in Tier 4, the strictest of the tiers, being upgraded from Tier 3 at midnight on December 30.

It means the city’s non-essential shops, as well as gyms and beauty services, must close their doors once more, bringing a difficult end to an already tumultuous year.

Retail and hospitality sectors have had to navigate nine months of national lockdowns, local lockdowns and changing tier systems.

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Port Independent in St Thomas Street, city centre

Gerard Purvis is director of Port Independent in St Thomas Street, one of the city’s few independent clothing retailers.

He said: “Although I know it’s critical to keep everyone safe and try to bring the virus under control, the repetition of yo-yoing in and out of tiers has been damaging to business.

"It hasn’t worked at bringing down the R number and it creates an uncertainty with customers. January is already an awful month for retail and for some businesses this could be the last straw.

"It feels like we’d be better off if the whole country went back into a full lockdown and the Government reworked the grants and bounce back loans system. That way, we’re all in the same boat and there’s no confusion.”

Les Ojugbana, owner of Fitness 2000 in Roker

Like all gym owners, Les Ojugbana will once more have to close his gym, Fitness 2000 in Roker, which is already down 70% on memberships than it normally would be due to the pandemic.

"For nine months of this year businesses have been drastically obstructed and some will not survive this,” explained the businessman. “Gyms are clean and secure and have done everything asked of them with the precautions in place. These lockdowns have done nothing, so why close us again?

"Not only are gyms businesses, they are so important for people’s mental health. It’s affecting people’s mental health issues, it’s affecting people’s finances. It’s totally frustrating and you just can’t see an end to it.”

Karen Eve, centre director at the Bridges, said: “Following today’s announcement we have been ensuring all of our safe working practices are in place and it will only be essential retailers who will remain open.

Simon Whitaker of Master Debonair in East Boldon

“Unfortunately we have been in this position before, but at the moment it is the right decision to try and protect everyone from Covid-19 and hopefully with the news about the vaccines we will be able to look at better times ahead in 2021.”

Reacting to the Tier 4 announcement, he said: “We were just starting to see signs of a slow recovery. December sales were 65% down on 2019 but a slight improvement from October/November 2020. We’d booked around 15 wedding appointments across our East Boldon and Chesterfield shops for January 2021 which was fantastic and looking like a good start to the year.

"We’ve implemented all the social distancing measures the Government has stipulate so our shops are as safe as any environment the general public are in.To be hit by each shop going into Tier 4 is a real kick in the teeth.

Non-essential shops in The Bridges will close once more

"We’ve worked nonstop since March to reduce our costs, work with suppliers and try to stabilise our businesses after seeing our sales decimated by 70% from 2019, this is hard to take.

"We still remain very optimistic for things picking up around Easter but the lack of financial support from the government is killing businesses. Let’s hope the imminent roll out of the new vaccine can get us back to Tier 3 or 2 come February/March.”

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