Northwich Art Shop owner seeks cost of living aid

INDEPENDENT businesses in Northwich are asking people to ‘use us or lose us’ as they battle to keep their heads above water during the cost of living crisis.

As the economy struggles to recover in the post-pandemic era, soaring prices have left millions of people across the country struggling to cope.

Food, gas and electricity prices are the highest in decades, with inflation now nearing 10%.

The impact of the crisis on ordinary working families is also being felt on businesses, as people have less money to spend in shops and in the hospitality industry.

These pressures are felt even more intensely by independent businesses, as they often operate on much thinner margins and don’t have the added luxury of being able to cut a large workforce in an effort to balance the books.

We spoke to some of the small businesses in town and asked them what life was like right now and their hopes for the future.

Phil Bower, owner of Northwich Art Shop for eight years, said sales had been down since mid-February.

He said he fully understands the predicament people are in and the fact that they just don’t have the money to spend about a year ago.

“We had a pretty solid January through February, but as soon as they started talking about energy prices going up, you could see the difference,” he said.

“Sales practically plummeted through the floor at that time.

“But it doesn’t always affect custom, because you wear two hats in that you have your business, but you also have your private home, so you can see how scary that is.

“And then we had the invasion of Ukraine, which caused fuel prices to skyrocket.

“From our perspective, I’d say we’re operating on about 40% down sales.”

Phil Bower outside Northwich Art Shop, which he has owned for eight years

After the pandemic-enforced shutdowns, Phil diversified the business and set up a website to make sales, but despite this, sales are around 60% lower than pre-Covid.

“That kind of diversification for us was the only thing that kept us going,” he added.

“It was by no means busy online, but it was still enough.

“The problem we have now is – where do we go from here?

“About a month ago businesses in the city started getting a little worried saying ‘if you don’t use it, you’re going to lose it’ – which is true, but we can’t blame the people because they don’t have the money to spend.

Phil demanded more from the government and whoever replaces Boris Johnson as leader, particularly when it comes to soaring energy costs.

“It’s disgusting that we’re in this position,” he said.

“The government just doesn’t seem ready to do anything.

“My energy costs have already increased by 135% for the company.

“It’s £2.5k in turnover just to pay EDF for the privilege of turning on the lights.

“I think the next six months are going to be absolutely critical.

“What we need is strong leadership from those who can have an impact.

“The answer is not footfall or our customers, because the people of Northwich work so hard to keep the town center alive.

“There are so many events going on, and they’re being held thanks to contributions from local businesses.”

“My positive message is that Northwich Art Shop has been here since 1981, and I intend to continue to be here and continue to take care of our customers and serve our community.

“As a fairly large supermarket once said, ‘every little bit counts’.”

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