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‘Shop Local or lose us’ say independent traders in your neighbourhood

PUBLISHED: 07:00 22 October 2020 | UPDATED: 10:46 22 October 2020

Roman Road Market... surviving the pandemic, now turning a champter. Picture: Mike Brooke

Roman Road Market... surviving the pandemic, now turning a champter. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

A Shop Local campaign to support our independent stores hit by the coronavirus pandemic is launched today by the East London Advertiser.

Roman Road... fun shopping on a Saturday with your mates. Picture: Mike BrookeRoman Road... fun shopping on a Saturday with your mates. Picture: Mike Brooke

Small traders have been telling us how, on top of it all, they’re facing rocketing rents, parking restrictions and the rise of online shopping.

Those in Roman Road, for example, say customers find it hard to park. They are calling for Saturday parking to be free as one measure.

Otherwise they say the market can’t last much longer.

Shops are there for the community. But for how much longer?

Sam Elithy waits for your custom at his menswear store. Picture: Mike BrookeSam Elithy waits for your custom at his menswear store. Picture: Mike Brooke

Add the Covid-19 emergency and there’s a perfect storm brewing. Traders are urging shoppers to “use it or lose it”.

“People just don’t go out,” Sam Elithy reflects. “The mood for spending wasn’t there in the lockdown.”

He runs one of those traditional menswear stores jam packed with suits and boots, jackets and jumpers, shirts and shoes and, of course, racks of anoraks with fur trimmings.

The customers used to pack whatever space was left in his tiny shop. But where are they now?

Sam Elithy reflecting on the Covid effect had on his Roman Road menswear business. Picture: Mike BrookeSam Elithy reflecting on the Covid effect had on his Roman Road menswear business. Picture: Mike Brooke

Shopping online is a challenge. Sam can’t see any attraction in that.

“You have to wait up to four weeks for online goods to arrive,” Sam tells you.

“Shop local and people come in to look around, feeling the goods, touching them.”

He spent a year with no serious parking restrictions when he moved to the Roman Road 20 years ago. Then the council cashed in on a demand for shoppers to park.

Roman Road... queue for Kelley's  traditional East End pie'n'mash. Picture: Mike BrookeRoman Road... queue for Kelley's traditional East End pie'n'mash. Picture: Mike Brooke

What few customers might just pop in for that sleek jacket or pair of Italian brogues don’t hang around long enough to make their purchase.

“Every minute the customer looks at their watch and goes out,” Sam explains.

“The council has to make it at least Saturday free parking when we do most of our trade. That would save Roman Road.”

The shopkeepers saw it coming when the Tesco car park was demolished, leaving just 20 spaces by the ticket machine on the corner of St Stephen’s Road for shoppers.

Making 'The Roman' safe... barriers for social distance in Roman Road Market at the heart of MP Rushanara Ali's Bethnal Green & Bow constituency. Picture: Mike BrookeMaking 'The Roman' safe... barriers for social distance in Roman Road Market at the heart of MP Rushanara Ali's Bethnal Green & Bow constituency. Picture: Mike Brooke

Sam points to the 20 bays: “It would help if they built a multi-storey car park just there.

“We don’t have the Underground like Whitechapel or Walthamstow markets and only one bus, the No 8. A multi-storey would be better than nothing.”

He used to have shops in Oxford Street and Carnaby Street until he says big landlords harassed him with soaring rent, and never regretted “going local” when he took a shop down ‘The Roman’.

Further along is Tony’s barbers and hairdressers started by two Greek brothers 60 years ago, now run by Riz Iqbal who acknowledges the pandemic isn’t helping because people are scared to come out. Nor are the parking restrictions helping.

Riz Iqbal... otherwise known as 'Tony the barber' at the top end of Roman Road. Picture: Mike BrookeRiz Iqbal... otherwise known as 'Tony the barber' at the top end of Roman Road. Picture: Mike Brooke

“It’s not rocket science,” Riz would have it. “Bring back Saturday parking and invest in the market to get more stores open.”

Current trading conditions are some of the toughest we’ve seen for generations, the council would have it.

So the town hall has reduced Roman Road carpark fees on Saturdays and in the surrounding area from Grove Road to Wick Lane, up to £2.10 for two hours, with no charge on Saturday after 5.30pm, or on Sundays and bank holidays.

It has also put up new signs, bollards and one-way systems for shoppers for “safe social distancing” aimed at the safe re-opening of markets.

It's a snip... shoppers down 'The Roman' nip in for a quick hair-do while out bargain-hunting. Picture: Mike BrookeIt's a snip... shoppers down 'The Roman' nip in for a quick hair-do while out bargain-hunting. Picture: Mike Brooke

The council sees the East End’s historic markets as a vibrant part of its identity and promises plans to improve Roman Road and Brick Lane, and has declared a ‘Heritage Action’ zone around Petticoat Lane.

Resident parking permit holders can park up to three hours free at a market outside their main zone.

But that doesn’t help those from other parts of London who would be tempted to shop down ‘The Roman’ with only 20 bays available.

One man who knows is Gino Randolfis, whose family has run Randolfis’ refreshment bar in Roman Road for 100 years, started by his grandfather.

Gino Randolfi serving in his refreshment bar first opened in Roman Road by his grandfather 100 years ago. Picture: Mike BrookeGino Randolfi serving in his refreshment bar first opened in Roman Road by his grandfather 100 years ago. Picture: Mike Brooke

The Shop Local campaign would help “if we had more parking”, he thinks.

Shopping malls have taken away his business, especially Westfield when it opened in Stratford in 2011.

“Roman Road was doing all right up till then,” he recalls. “We don’t even have a public toilet.”

The pandemic hasn’t helped if you depend on passing trade, with or without a public loo to hand.

Shop LocalShop Local

‘The Roman’ could soon be history, traders fear, if people don’t “shop local”.


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