BUSINESS leaders are meeting government officials to push for new short-term support measures for retailers, hairdressers, beauty salons and other businesses starved of customers owing to the wave of Omicron-variant infections.
Chamber of Commerce chief executive Murray Norton said that footfall in St Helier was dramatically lower than usual for this time of year, with large numbers of people working from home, while hairdresser Brett Brimble-Byrne said that ‘a flood of cancellations’ meant his salon was doing half the normal level of business for January.
Both said that additional support now needed to be considered for shops in town and businesses which rely on close contact ,such as hair salons, nail technicians and beauticians.
Mr Brimble-Byrne, who runs the Salon SB hairdressers, in La Motte Street, said: ‘Twelve months ago, we were closed on 23 December and we then remained closed through until the second week in February. But at least we knew we were getting government assistance to pay salaries and wages through the co-funding payroll scheme. This year, we’re open but we’ve got Covid-19 cases now over 4,000 and customers are ringing in cancelling appointments constantly because of contact-tracing or having to self-isolate.
‘January is normally a pretty decent month for us but we’ve just hit a flood of cancellations, plus we have got a rash of staff off as well. We’ve still got all the rent and all the other costs to pay but there’s no government support right now.’
Financial help is being provided for some sectors, such as hospitality, but Mr Norton said that others were also struggling.
He said: ‘We are talking to government about it and trying to get them to understand that, at the moment, there are other areas out there that have been impacted in the same way that hospitality has been.
‘We hope that they will see that as a clear indication that more businesses will probably need short-term support.’
He added: ‘The majority of Monday-to-Friday trade in retail in St Helier is people who work in St Helier and they make up the majority of the footfall. If those people are then recommended to work from home, the footfall drops off.
‘The closer-contact businesses like hairdressing, nail bars and other beauty therapies are affected, as are other retailers in town.
‘We are hearing it is not so much about people fearful of coming into town, but there are a lot of people who would normally have been in town and they’re not. They’re not impulse-buying, not doing the regular buy that they would do on the way to work, during their lunch hour or on the way home. You can’t make up for that just on the Saturday.’
Mr Brimble-Byrne agreed that increased remote-working had substantially reduced footfall in St Helier.
‘They’re asking people to work from home and that obviously has a knock-on effect because people aren’t coming into town,’ he said.
‘They really need to look at bringing back the payroll co-funding assistance that we’ve had in the past or the fixed-cost support scheme.’