'We're so grateful for the support' - Chester Road traders on business in Lockdown 3
It’s one of Sunderland’s busiest, and oldest, roads once leading directly to the heart of the medieval village of Bishopwearmouth.
Today, Chester Road lies in the shadow of Sunderland Royal Hospital, the frontline of the fight against the pandemic. The hospital and its workers has always provided plenty of trade for the local high street, but Lockdown has seen its essential traders welcome some new faces too.
As part of our ongoing #SupportLocal campaign, we’re visiting local high streets across Wearside to speak to independent traders about how business is faring in Lockdown 3 – and on Chester Road there’s been some boosts in trade.
San Marino has been keeping its diners well fed with classic Italian dishes for 26 years.
The pandemic has been testing to say the least, but like many in the hospitality sector they’ve adapted with a delivery and collection service that has helped to keep the much-loved restaurant alive – while also giving customers the chance to treat themselves at home.
Ben Harman, who runs the restaurant with wife Elisa, said the loyalty of their customers has seen them through.
"The support we’ve had has been brilliant,” he said. “Because people aren’t using the supermarkets and city centre as much, more people are shopping local. The street has even seen a couple of new businesses open up, which is great to see. If they can open in times like this there must be a market there.”
The restaurant does deliveries and collection from 4pm-9pm Thursday to Saturday and from noon-7pm for Sunday dinners. Although mid-week trade has dropped, meaning the restaurant has reduced its hours, the weekend sees plenty of orders.
"We don’t use Just Eat, but our customers know to get their orders in early and we find a lot of people planning ahead for the weekend,” said the chef.
Speaking about the pandemic, which has hit the hospitality industry particularly hard, Ben said: “It’s been a massive eye opener and deliveries were something new to us. But there are silver linings to everything and we now have a system we can build on in the future.”
McCoy’s bakery and deli say they too have noticed an increase in people wanting to treat themselves in Lockdown.
Signature Sunderland snack pink slices are particularly popular at the shop, which sells takeaway hot and cold lunches, breads and cakes.
Karen Emmerson from McCoy’s, which also has a shop in Chiswick Square, Hylton Castle, said: “We’re only a small business, but trade has been good.
"With people not going into town we’ve seen some new faces which has been great. We make everything fresh every day and they appreciate that.
“People want a treat and we’re selling a lot more cakes and sweet things. Pink slices are definitely our best seller. One man was travelling back to Leeds for work and he took a box of 50 for his colleagues.
“It’s quietened down in January, but it always does, we’re still busier than an average January/February though.”
One of the longest-running traders in the street is Charlton’s fruit and veg shop which was established by Joe Charlton in 1970 at a time when he had a string of stores in the city.
Joe’s son Paul now runs the business, but Joe still mans the tills often where he’s been serving the same customers for decades.
He’s seen many changes on the street over the years, but he says the pandemic caused the biggest shift in shopping habits.
"In the first Lockdown everyone was bulk buying and we had a lot of business. I’ve never seen anything like it in my 55 years in the trade,” he said.
"This Lockdown more people are staying at home and the streets are noticeably quieter, but people are still coming out to their local shops. A lot of people feel safer here, we have limits on the numbers in the shop and we keep the door open. It’s cold when you’re behind the till, but it keeps the shop well ventilated.”
Speaking about why people keep coming back to the shop, Joe said: “All our fruit and veg is hand picked and we keep a check of stock, anything going out of date goes in a 25p basket. People like how fresh it is.”
Much of the street’s trade comes from the thousands of hospital workers nearby, but Stephan Salicki says Covid restrictions have affected custom.
His business McKeith’s is popular for its sandwiches, salad boxes and jacket potatoes.
"We would often deliver orders to the wards, but as the hospital is on Lockdown now, we can’t do that,” he explained. “We still get a few hospital staff coming in for their lunch, but not as many as we used to.”
Speaking about the difficulties of being an essential trader in a pandemic, he said: “We have enough trade to stay open, but it’s quieter and the time of year doesn’t help. Its a perfect storm really: you have a pandemic, Lockdown and bad weather to deal with.
"We still have our regulars though and people are definitely wanting to support local.”
McKeith’s already had a delivery system in place and it’s a service that’s also helped people wanting a working from home lunch in Lockdown.
The Sunderland Echo launched the #SupportLocal campaign last year encouraging people to use local businesses, online and in store, where possible and when available to help boost Sunderland’s economy.