Support local: Shining the spotlight on independent traders in Sea Road in Lockdown 3
They’re on first name terms with most of their customers, many of whom they've served for more than two decades – and independent traders on Sea Road hope it’s that personal touch which will see them through the pandemic.
As part of a series of spotlight features on Sunderland’s local high streets for our ongoing #SupportLocal campaign, we went along to Fulwell to speak to essential independent traders about how business is faring in Lockdown 3.
Shopping in Sea Road, once known as Sea View Road, dates back to the early 1900s when grocers, a butcher and a newsagent set up shop in the area. Over the decades it flourished as a popular shopping street, home to confectioners, banks, a post office, numerous food shops and, in the 1930s, its own cinema.
Over the decades, many shops have come and gone, but the Covid-19 pandemic is possibly the most testing time of all for traders.
Since March 2020, they’ve had to navigate three national lockdowns, a local lockdown and an ever-changing tier system. Throughout it all, local customer support has seen them through.
“As local businesses, we’ve been there to support them, and we hope people support us now,” explained Lesley Barlow from Barlow’s Fruit and Veg shop, one of the essential businesses still able to open in Lockdown 3. This is Lesley and husband Kevin’s 25th year trading in the local high street, and before that the shop was owned by Kevin’s parents.
It means they know their customers on a personal level you rarely find in big chains.
"We’ve seen people come and go on the street and empty premises over the years, but we have certainly seen a lot of support in the lockdowns,” explained Lesley. “Some people are still nervous of the supermarkets and they want to stay local.
"Demand for our delivery service has also picked up again, especially with people self-isolating or at risk. We try to support the local community as best we can.”
Christian Carney runs Fulwell Butchers, which offers meat packs and hot meals and he says adapting to a delivery model has helped small businesses survive.
"Footfall has definitely dropped in this lockdown, compared to the first lockdown when we had queues down the street,” he explained. “Now more people are staying at home more and we’re doing a lot more deliveries.”
Christian, who also owns The Train Line coffee shop at Seaburn Metro and Grange Garden Centre in Thompson Road, added: “We’re going week by week at the minute. We are still getting custom and we’re hoping Sea Road businesses can come together to survive. Survive is the word.”
Along with Barlow’s, Juliet Gaughan, of Juliet’s Deli, is another of the street’s longest-serving traders, having served home-made cakes, breads, pies and more for the past 23 years.
She says a combination of the weather and post-Christmas finances have made this lockdown quieter, but the support is still there.
"I think people have rediscovered their local shopping area because of the pandemic,” she said. “The street is quieter this time, because people are taking it seriously just how serious the pandemic is. But people are still shopping local for essentials, as and when.”
Speaking about what keeps customers coming back, Juliet said: “All our products are homemade on the premises, and that’s the key word: homemade. It’s that personal touch we have with our customers, I know a lot of them by name, and likewise they know my name. It’s that little bit of personal touch that they appreciate.”
Tony Moorhead and George Bailey are the street’s newest traders after taking over Diamond Fisheries from friend Bob, who’s been trading for 23 years.
George, a fisherman himself, says they plan to continue Bob’s ethos of selling only local fish, crab and lobster landed at the city’s Fish Quay.
"It’s a tough first week to open, but we decided to just take the plunge,” said George. “We know all the fishermen and it’s a new adventure for us, as with our previous jobs we’ve been furloughed or made redundant.”
Tony added: “It’s really important to keep local shops like this and we’ll be keeping prices fair for people and looking to offer deliveries of platters and more.”