Shop Local: ‘Now can be an opportunity for change, not just despair’ say St Albans retailers

Gather and Give gift shop in Hatfield Road, St Albans.

Gather and Give gift shop in Hatfield Road, St Albans. - Credit: Archant

Half-way through the second lockdown it’s crucial to keep the momentum going for businesses struggling to trade.

Gather and Give gift shop in Hatfield Road, St Albans.

Gather and Give gift shop in Hatfield Road, St Albans. - Credit: Archant

With Christmas just over a month away, the Herts Ad is keeping on the pressure with our #ShopLocal campaign.

If you’re looking for present ideas, steer away from the likes of Amazon and eBay and shop online with our local retailers.

Jass Patel, co-owner of Tomoka Spirits Boutique in Christopher Place Shopping Centre, said they have adapted well to the Covid situation, but missing out on a government bounce back loan prevented them from substantially expanding their online business.

As a result it is essential they have a successful Christmas, as this is their main income period of the year, but he is also aware of the need to adapt to the ongoing challenges faced by all retailers.

Gather and Give gift shop in Hatfield Road, St Albans.

Gather and Give gift shop in Hatfield Road, St Albans. - Credit: Archant


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He said: “I feel people are willing and want to spend money but the government needs to make this possible and support all retailers. My personal opinion is that business owners need to stop moaning about what’s going wrong and waiting for the government to help - because they will not - and instead be proactive and make changes, diversify and be fluid in your business model. Otherwise they will close and that is a fact!

“Look at other revenue streams that you can generate through your location and put into practice something you always wanted to do but never had the energy to do so. Now can be an opportunity for change, not just despair.”

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He explained how they have adjusted their own business model: “We have had an online shop dedicated to craft gins for a few years but never had the money to expand the awareness or indeed compete against our larger competitors.

“The first lockdown gave us a chance to create something unique and expand our shop experience into the virtual realm, and also helped us increase our general online sales. We were able to move quickly to offer virtual tastings online which allowed us to reach the whole country so we were no longer just trying to survive in St Albans, our reach was national. We also work very closely with our suppliers which gave us cash flow and increased trust as we move forward in the future.”

Co-owners of Tomoka Jass Patel and Shane Cody

Co-owners of Tomoka Jass Patel and Shane Cody - Credit: Archant

He joined other retailers in backing the Herts Ad’s campaign: “If people want a high street, if people want a nice place to shop and to be offered lots of great choices across both the daytime and night time economy then have to support it and as I mentioned earlier, I think the public is ready to do so.”

Just out of the city centre, in Hatfield Road, Fleetville, gift shop Gather and Give has had a bumpy ride since opening its doors last December.

Owner Catalina Martin explained how she was forced to close just a few months later: “I’m a mum of three and unfortunately Covid massively affected my childcare situation so I am still closed for the time being. Opening a store three days a week just isn’t feasible both financially and in terms of the customer experience. The juggle is proving more difficult than ever.

“I have a beautiful website which is easy to navigate and great fun to shop and have offered free local delivery since March, dropping off customers’ orders straight to their doors. I am now open for collections of online orders and will be offering ‘shopping days’ and private shopping appointments from November.

Co-owners of Tomoka Jass Patel and Shane Cody

Co-owners of Tomoka Jass Patel and Shane Cody - Credit: Archant

“The other issue I face is that I am a very small store and trying to keep everyone safe is hugely important to me. This may mean that I can only have one or two customers in at a time, which could put some customers off.”

She said it is vital they have a successful festive season: “Describing this Christmas as make or break sounds dramatic but it really is. Paying rent on an empty shop throughout lockdown has really taken its toll on my business, and the fact that I’ve been closed longer than I’ve been open is heartbreaking. Opening a shop anytime is a big challenge but opening one just before 2020 has been harder than any of us could have imagined.

“I’m a sustainable gift store, so as you can imagine Christmas plays a very big role in my sales. I can also post gifts straight to loved ones, handwriting messages in greetings cards. My new collection of gift boxes even arrive with a personalised gift tag and tied in a bow, perfect for presents.”

She urged readers to support our independent shops because of the vibrancy and life they bring to the city: “There is nothing better than popping into a small indie store and finding a treasure trove of interesting and exciting gifts for yourself and loved one. We are local people ourselves and want the best for our city. I grew up in St Albans and am now raising my own family here too. I am so proud to be able to bring something to my community and support our local economy.”

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