Coronavirus pandemic ‘could be curtains’ for small businesses

Coronavirus pandemic 'could be curtains' for small businesses

House of Reeves

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Gordon Thompson was convicted of the arson of House of Reeves furniture store

The director of a family-run shop that was burnt to the ground during the 2011 London riots says small businesses may be forced to shut by Covid-19.

Graham Reeves warned “it could be curtains” if small retailers do not get support to solve cash flow problems.

Mr Reeves runs Croydon furniture store House of Reeves, which like many small retailers does not currently qualify for government bail-out cash.

The Department for Business has been approached for a comment.

Many shops, restaurants, gyms and leisure centres have had to close for weeks because of the coronavirus lockdown.

To help, the government announced a £25,000 Retail, Leisure and Hospitality grant (RLHG) – but it is only available to businesses in those industries with a rateable value of £51,000 or less.

A recession is now expected as many small businesses have been shutdown and unable to generate income.

“All around London most businesses have a rateable value of over £51,000,” Mr Reeves explained.

“Rent for many businesses will get adjourned for three months and that’s what most have been doing, deferring.

“Unless you can negotiate at the end of June you get a whopping bill and if you can’t pay that then it could be curtains.

“The biggest problem is the cash flow and another difficulty is the unknown.”

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Getty Images

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House of Reeves was able to recover from the fire due to help from the public, Graham Reeves said

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Getty Images

Image caption

Maurice Reeves, who stands where the arson attack happened, owned the shop in 2011 during the riots

Matt Sims, of Croydon’s Business Improvement District (BID), is leading a national campaign to raise the maximum rateable value of shops that qualify from £51,000 to £150,000.

It has been backed by dozens of MPs including Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Mr Sims said: “There is a deepening concern that thousands of businesses in these sectors are teetering on the edge of the abyss with many expecting widespread permanent closures in the next seven weeks as we approach the next rent quarter on 24 June.

“There is a significant risk that these businesses, the lifeblood of our high streets and communities, will be unable to support the stimulation of the nation’s economy without further intervention from the Treasury.”

Established in 1867 House of Reeves survived two world wars, recessions, as well as the huge fire in 2011, becoming a symbol of the riots that broke out across England.

But, Mr Reeves said the coronavirus pandemic posed a new threat and, like House of Reeves did to survive in 2011, help from the public will be vital if businesses are not forced to close.

The 61-year-old said: “We’ve had a few disasters along the way and we’re quite used to managing troubles.”

“We aren’t going to close the doors and go bust. I feel if we can get open then we can make money – but we want to open safely.

“After the fire what kept the company open was the people.

“It was on its knees. Our cash flow was doomed with no furniture. But people bought stuff which gave us breathing space to sort ourselves out and get going.

“That’s what businesses will need – a little bit of buying.”

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