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March 19, 2020, 3:43 p.m. EDT

Trapped in no-man’s land of coronavirus restrictions, some of Britain’s small businesses are wasting away

Brutal fallout for restaurants as social distancing becomes the norm

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By Lina Saigol


Getty Images
A view of Portobello Road in London’s Notting Hill.

The simple and bleak printed sign hastily taped to the smeared glass window says it all.

Royal China, one of London’s most famous Chinese restaurants, usually humming with diners in search of its authentic Cantonese cuisine, has closed its doors until May 1 “to protect the health and safety of our customers and staff.”

Restaurants like Royal China, which are part of a larger group with six branches in the British capital as well as in China, Hong Kong and Dubai, are probably large enough to withstand the disruption caused by the deepening coronavirus crisis.

But for dozens of smaller businesses located in Queensway and the neighboring areas of Notting Hill and Holland Park, it is a dramatically different story.

Don’t miss: Small businesses could crumble in 45 days or less as coronavirus pandemic takes a toll

From restaurants and coffee shops to hairdressers and gyms, local places — the heart and soul of communities — may not be able to survive closing for even a few days, let alone a few weeks or months as their cash flow dries up.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak, alongside Prime Minister Boris Johnson, unveiled a bumper package of £330 billion in government-backed loans on Tuesday to protect businesses amid the pandemic. The hospitality and retail sectors were also given a year-long business rates holiday — an extension of the measures announced in last week’s budget — with some eligible for cash grants of up to £25,000.

These may provide some relief, but business operators like Hossi, the 41-year-old owner of a small Persian restaurant in London’s Notting Hill, are coming to terms with the reality of the crisis.

Standing on the street, smoking nervously, Hossi, who asked to be identified only by his first name, said numbers at the restaurant started declining last week and have now fallen to zero.

“The government is confusing us — do we stay open or not. If we knew, then at least I could prepare,” Hossi says. “At the moment my vegetable supplier doesn’t know if he should go to the market, and I have had to throw away the meat I have ordered.”

Small-businesses owners like Hossi have reacted with anger at Johnson’s advice that customers should stay away from their venues, without actually ordering a shutdown as major cities including Paris, Madrid and Amsterdam have done to combat the spread of the virus. In effect, that puts these London businesses in a no-man’s land of coronavirus precautions.

Located next door to Hossi’s restaurant is a family-owned dry cleaner, which has been a fixture of the neighborhood for more than a decade. Said, 34, whose uncle owns the business, said he has had to cut down opening hours by four hours a day.

“We lost £800 in business this week, and that’s only going to get worse,” says Said, who also asked that only his first name be used. “People need to wash their clothes, but they are scared to come out.”

Dorothy, 39, the manager at hairdressers Scissors Palace in Holland Park, said the coronavirus has had a big impact on the usually buzzing salon. “We have seen a significant decrease in booked appointments, a lack of new walk-in clientele and are struggling to stay open long hours because of high costs.”

Scissors Palace has had to trim its staff and reduce treatment prices to keep clients coming. “The most worrying and terrifying thing is that employees cannot physically generate any profit from working from home. When the business needs to shut, not much can be done to keep it running,” Dorothy said.

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