Save Our Shops: How are south Croydon independent businesses coping one year on?
ONE year after the Advertiser launched its Support Our Shops campaign, Rachel Millard speaks to 50 small business owners to find out how they are coping...
IT IS fair to say there is a unique offer at Pindi Food and Wine in Brighton Road, Coulsdon.
Owner Asif Mehmood offers free soft drinks and snacks to all paramedics, as a small gesture of thanks.
He said: "One day I got ill and they came to my home and helped me.
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"Since that day I said whenever I open a shop, paramedics will get soft drinks and sweets for free.
"I have another shop in Thornton Heath and when I am not here those are my instructions to my staff.
"You won't find that anywhere else."
Such an approach to customer service is the hallmark of our high street shops, and something Mr Mehmood is clearly proud to do.
Yet with most such shops reporting a drop in business for yet another year, who knows for how long such traditions may continue.
Our survey this month of 50 independent high street businesses in south Croydon revealed more than half had seen business fall over the past 12 months.
About 40 per cent said business had stayed the same, with just five shops admitting to an increase, a result broadly in line with our similar survey one year ago.
Like last year, parking and business rates were cited as the biggest stumbling blocks traders faced in trying to beat the bad economy.
But more and more traders are also hoping the council will try to make more use of planning powers to help them.
Kay Patel, owner of Kays News in South End, said she has had to take out an overdraft this year for the first time, after a Tesco Express opened round the corner.
She said: "They could restrict the chain stores so there was not more than one within a certain area, to let other people survive."
Tahsim Dagdelem, manager of Deep Sea Fish Bar in Kenley, echoed the call for the council to ensure of a mix of nearby shops in his parade.
He said: "There are few shops and so many restaurants and takeaways – Croydon Council keeps giving permission for these types of businesses."
Most traders could only offer a bashful "hopefully" when asked would they still be here in five years' time.
But they were more forthright on why everyone would lose were they not.
Louise Arpino, owner of the Coulsdon Pet Centre in Brighton Road, said: "They would never get the service like they do at local shops – we have customers who ring up and without saying their name they say, 'Can I have my usual order?'
"We know where their key is to let ourselves in their door and go to their kitchen [to feed their pets ]. They are never going to get that anywhere else."
Sonny Patel, manager of Good News newsagent in Purley, said: "If you walk into Tesco they will not give you credit like I do to my regular customers."
The ray of sunshine in the high street – and possible sign of times to come – seems to be in niche businesses.
Apparently bucking the downward trend is electric bike store Cycling Made Easy in Coulsdon.
Its owner, Ray Wookey, said it had sold "900 per cent" more over Christmas than this time last year, though declined to give numbers.
He added he hopes to expand into lager premises in the next year.
Mr Wookey said: "We have used the internet a lot and we have a very big and comprehensive website.
"We have formed personal relationships and we try to have a very high level of customer care."
Westbourne Florists owner Marilyn Poulton says the number one issue threatening the parade is poor parking enforcement.
Lack of wardens means cars are often parked in the few Transport for London bays all day, blocking potential customers.
She said: “We just want them to do what they put into action: just do their job.”
Nearby store Items has an advantage over many high street shops, as one of the few sugar craft shops serving a wide area.
“Sugar craft is one of the up and coming things with all the baking shows,” said
But she owner Pamela Parrott said business has been about the same this year as last, agreeing: “Parking is the main thing. We need better parking, and more parking.”
FORMER Woolworth's manager Asad Khan opened successor store Smallworths in the high street in August 2010.
He has had to adapt his new business over the past year to meet 'challenging' conditions, including crippling roadworks and high business rates.
The store has started a line in computer and mobile phone repairs, which Mr Khan says has proved to be a success.
"We have had one or two businesses come to us now because we are charging such a good rate, so we do a couple of commercial businesses now," he added.
"I think everyone can do more to support local businesses because at the end of the day that’s how to avoid empty shops.
"We opened a store here because we believed it is a good place to open a business, because it is serving the community.
"We know it is not going to be easy but we believe we can definitely create a business here."
TRADERS here are awaiting planned developments which could bring hundreds more regular shoppers to town.
More than 650 homes are due to be built on Cane Hill, more than 80 flats in the high street, and possibly one or even two new town centre supermarkets.
Nava Rajah’s Best Save Food and Wine in Brighton Road will have made it ten years in the town in September.
Mr Rajah said: "It is not like a fully developed town yet – they should have done the Coulsdon bypass after development.
"There is not enough to bring people in for the day – we need a proper clothes shop or a fast-food restaurant like a McDonald’s, for example."
Vijay Upadhyaya, owner of Marsh’s Stationers in Brighton Road, echoed the criticism of the bypass.
He said: "They said it would lessen traffic in the town centre; instead it has just taken people out."
ALAN Manley has kept his business afloat with some nifty adaptation.
The manager of Purley Sports in Brighton Road said: "We have started doing T-shirt and other printing and engraving.
"That side of the business has really taken off. We started because we got inundated with people asking for it.
"Otherwise Purley high street is pretty dead and too many shops are closing down."
Phil Herodotou has taken a bold step into that environment.
He opened Burgers at Blacks early last year, gaining national media coverage for a burger eating challenge.
He said: "Things have pretty much grown through word of mouth.
"People should definitely support their shops as it creates a bit of community."
FAMILY Choice is one of two food and wine retailers at the small parade in Sanderstead Road.
Manager Nair said: "People should definitely support their local shops.
"For example now during the snow they have no choice, so they should definitely consider us during other times as well."
The shopkeeper says he has seen a dip in business over the past year, partly due to Tesco Express opening in South Croydon.
He said: "The government has got to control the opening of these express shops. They must give the others a chance to survive."
Next door, Mega Kitchens does not depend on passing trade nor compete with Tesco.
But even there, owner Hugo Rincon says business has been a struggle over the past three years due to 'the economic situation'.
GEOFFREY Butler Cycles is one of a minority of shops not to report a drop in business over the past year.
Manager Stephen Delaney said: "We are a physical kind of product so it is not just ordering a CD; it is more complicated than that and hands-on – there is also repair work.
"Sometimes people do come in and ask us to put together bikes they bought in Tesco."
But, he added, fewer restaurants in the area branded the 'restaurant quarter' may be for everyone's good.
He said: "For a shop like us it would probably help if there were more retail outlets rather than restaurants – and it may help the restaurants as well."