How you can still shop local and support small businesses during lockdown
Town leaders across Suffolk face a difficult task this year - encouraging people to Shop Local instead of using the likes of Amazon when they log on to do their Christmas shopping
Normally independent retailers around the county would be looking forward to their busiest trading period with crowds thronging their shops on the hunt for Christmas presents, festive outfits and rich delicacies savoured at this time of year.
Now with a second national lockdown imposed our high streets will remain empty.
Last month we launched the Shop Local campaign. A use-it-or-lose-it plea for our readers to spend their hard-earned cash with local independents - and even now as we head into a second lockdown that is still the message.
Because as he announced the closure of non-essential retail during his briefing on Saturday night, Boris Johnson stated that shops could still operate ‘Click and Collect’ services, allowing them to serve customers from their doorways.
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Now we are urging readers to think about the small traders and browse their websites before automatically clicking through the leading internet sellers, because every time you shop with a local business you are supporting the Suffolk economy and helping keep those businesses alive.
Mark Cordell, chief executive of the Bury St Edmunds’ Business Improvement District (BID), said they are launching a gift card in the run up to the festive season.
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He said: “We do believe that the local communities still want to support our businesses. And we want to give them every opportunity to do that.”
“People can go online and purchase our gift card,” he said. “It can then be redeemed in over 40 businesses in Bury St Edmunds.
“You can still support local businesses, you can still Shop Local, but from the comfort of your own home and then give these gift cards to people who will then be able to spend money in the local economy. That’s hugely beneficial for the local economy rather than, dare I say, buying an Amazon voucher – which doesn’t benefit the town at all.”
Mr Cordell said he hopes the gift cards will continue to encourage shoppers into the town throughout January and February when the lockdown has hopefully been lifted.
René van den Oort, owner of Beautiful Beers which has signed up to the gift card scheme, ran a successful delivery service through the first lockdown and hopes to do so again.
“We were very busy,” he said. “We do a free delivery service – regardless of spend – within Bury for the over-65s.
“And for anyone else we do a free delivery service within 30 miles if you spend over £30.”
Mr van den Oort said that if people continued to Shop Local online it would help small independent businesses like his to remain open beyond the lockdown.
“At least it paid the rent,” he said. “Because the rent doesn’t stop even if we can’t open our doors.
“It was a huge help in achieving that. It helped us to remain open throughout the lockdown and afterwards as well.”
Bury St Edmunds is not the only town using a digital solution to help the high street.
Hannah Wright, Southwold town development manager, hopes that a new app the town is planning to launch will allow businesses to remind shoppers of Covid-security measures as well advertising new offers directly to shoppers.
The app was planned before the lockdown was imposed but it is hoped it will be up and running by the start of December, when the tough new restrictions will start to be eased - according to Mr Johnson.
“It’s like a digital Southwold in the palm of your hand,” said Ms Wright. “It’s got a section reminding you of the Covid security measures like the one-way system and the test and trace. But it’s also got a section about shopping in the town. We’ll be able to send out a push notification telling people if a store is running a special offer.”
Terry Hunt, chairman of Ipswich Vision, said that without people’s support this festive season many local businesses could go bust.
“In any normal year Christmas is massively important for retailers, and this year that’s multiplied manyfold.
“Christmas will be make-or-break for many retailers. If they have a bad Christmas then I’m afraid some of them won’t be here to open their doors again in January.”