Closures on the Broadway set to continue as footfall drops sharply
Punjab Textiles on Southall Broadway. Picture: Anahita Hossein-Pour
It’s two days before the second lockdown sweeps across England and everyone in Southall is in a rush. Queues of people line up outside every bank while shoppers are bustling up and down the Broadway, too busy to stop. To the outside eye it appears to be business as usual – but step into many of the shops and they are empty.
Punjab Textiles is one of them, a family-run business that’s been in the heart of Southall for 40 years. Rolls of sparkling fabrics dazzle the store, and owner Yameen Malik is saddened to be thinking about shutting down if trade continues to be so bad.
“We didn’t have time to eat our dinner, we used to be so busy. We didn’t have time to serve the customers. Those times are gone,” the 63-year-old says.
“It’s terrible how much loss we made, we are very sad about what’s happening…They [customers] are scared to come out.”
The businessman lives nearby with his wife and daughter, and with the shop as their only source of income, Mr Malik is worried about how they will cope.
He adds, “This is our survival, we are just paying the bills…just paying out from our pockets to survive. If it stays like this, it’s not worth running, what is the point?
“A lot of businesses [on Southall Broadway] have closed down, a lot of small stalls are closing, they can’t even afford to pay rent…Everyone is complaining. A lot of friends of mine, they have closed down.
“It’s terrible, I have never seen a time like this.”
Mr Malik believes Southall has been hit “very badly” because visitors from abroad and across the country are no longer coming.
“They had many tourists coming here, people from Luton, Birmingham, they used to come here to do shopping. It’s a big market.”
As of Thursday, Mr Malik and his family will be staying at home, doing jobs and working around the house.
“Otherwise what can you do, you get depressed. People have already got depressed,” he says.
A&H Fashion. Picture: Anahita Hossein-Pour
Inside Madhan’s Shopping Mall, Channi Fashion is having more luck with a mother and daughter buying some bangles in a last-minute shopping trip before Thursday’s lockdown.
The glitzy jewellery shop however is also struggling according to employee Iljeet Bajaj, as she shares Mr Malik’s concerns that Southall’s economy has been worst-hit.
The diverse cultural district of Ealing is sometimes known as ‘Little India’, and has many businesses catering for wedding season and festivals such as Diwali. The festival of lights which is usually celebrated over five days, however, will now fall under lockdown.
Iljeet says, “Wedding season and everything is affected by the pandemic…especially now because of lockdown. Some festivals coming up like Diwali, people usually buy stuff for it…now people are not celebrating it so there’s no point wasting [their] money.
“And us, we’re a non-essential business. Every time, we have to shut down.”
The 20-year-old is frantically looking for another job after her boss believes he won’t be needing the same level of staff the way things are going.
According to Iljeet, the business was also considering shutting down until the landlord of the building said they could consider a rent reduction.
“It’s very hard to find jobs these days, I have applied to so many things,” she says.
Iljeet lives with her mother, who has a disability, and her father in Hounslow, and is the sole earner of their household. Being furloughed again on 80 per cent of the salary, this time around isn’t an attractive option.
“It makes it difficult, everybody has got a budget. Last time there was no other option,” she says.
“It’s [lockdown] going to be much worse than last time. We have changes at home, circumstances are changing and everybody is so depressed.”
For Greenford mother Saba Zehid, she is also worried about the looming tough time ahead in a second lockdown.
Mrs Zehid runs A&H Fashion with her husband in one of Southall’s many arcades, but it’s quiet and the 40-year-old says customers now are “just looking” rather than buying the array of colourful clothes.
Her two sons are back attending primary school, and while the family believes being back in school is best for them, they also feel it’s “very tough, because the virus is not gone.”
But at home, Mrs Zehid says, “They just play, and [watch] TV. A little bit of learning, and reading and writing, no more. Going to school there’s more staff in school, school is best.”
The mother-of-two also began English language evening classes in September, which will continue to run during the pandemic. While she worries about getting the bus, she puts her faith in God to protect her from coronavirus.
But not all shops along the bustling high street will be shut this month. Ajmeet Singh, part owner of convenience store Southall News, will still be travelling to work at the essential business each morning from his Hayes home.
Recalling the March lockdown, the 32-year-old says, “I’ve never seen Southall like it, it was really creepy for me to drive down in the morning and see everything shut down.
“Southall used to be open every single time, bank holidays, no matter what the occasion, it just seems unreal to be honest.”
“Southall is hit hard because Southall properly relies on marriage seasons and wedding parties, banqueting. There is a lot of tourism that comes here because of that reason…It’s all halted, it has been affected, and now all those shops will be closed.”
While the corner shop is able to stay open, Mr Singh is not hopeful of booming business. And he’s decided after 10 years in the retail business, lockdown has been the “cherry on top” to decide to sell the store and change his career.
“I’m going to try and sell my business, going to refurbish it a bit then put it on the market,” he explains.
“I will do anything [but] not retail.”
He knows shoppers prefer to go to big “superstores” where prices can be lower, and he’s stopped paying for the credit card terminal as he can’t afford the charges after finding transactions are down 60 per cent compared to last year.
“We had losses in the last lockdown and we will suffer losses again now, it will take us time to rebuild,” he says.
The business was able to receive a government grant the first time round, which covered rent and bills “to keep the landlord happy”, but Mr Singh says this time isn’t looking as good.
“Even now I had a look yesterday at the grants for now, it is about £1,300 a month, it’s not sufficient enough. It’s lower than last time,” he adds.
“We are not better off this time, people are more cautious around this time because of previous experience they know what to do now. People stop buying extra stuff.”
In his final days of freedom he was planning one last goodbye visit to his parents in Northolt, before staying in his household bubble with his wife and son.
The young family are “99.9 per cent” confident that if their son gets coronavirus from school they could pull through, and are building up their health with immune system tablets, Vitamin C, ginger juices and believe their Indian diet will keep them strong.
Mr Singh’s optimism however doesn’t extend to how well this second lockdown will go, and he is worried the virus could spiral four or five times higher than the last peak.
“It’s gone out of hand, it will not recover like this, a month-long it is not enough for it [coronavirus] to go down, especially because of winter because of colds, coughs and together with that,” he says.
“I really hope it doesn’t get to that level, [but] I feel the worst is about to come.”