Independent businesses have always been the soul of any community. They often source local products meaning they strengthen local supply chains, they provide local employment, and they contribute to the uniqueness of local identity.
Basically, the small businesses we have around us are what make Beeston, Beeston. But the very essence of what makes us uniquely Beeston is under threat. Like every other district across Leeds and the rest of the UK, the cost-of-living crisis is ravaging small businesses; and the lack of support in response to that threat is the final death knell.
The common thread in speaking to business owners in this part of Leeds is the concern and compassion they feel for their customers and the community in which they operate.
Mazar, who manages Gelato Moments on Beeston’s Ring Road, has tried everything he possibly can to keep the price of his products down for his customers. “In Beeston a visit to Gelato Moments has always been a once or twice a month treat for the kids because parents have to budget even for that” he said.
In fact, Mazar’s customers come from further afield to enjoy some of the lowest dessert prices in Leeds. But, he says, in the face of electricity and gas price rises more than five times the previous years’ rates “there’s no way I can hold prices at their current levels and keep the business running”.
The owner of a household appliance shop in Beeston was keen to share his story while remaining anonymous.
“I’ve always made sure the products I stock match the pockets of the local community. We’re grafters but we don’t have the same sort of wealth they’ve got in Harrogate”. Pointing to a shelf of kettles and toasters he says “these are good quality and really good value. But these prices barely cover the new wholesale prices, let alone my electric.” He is visibly emotional as he tells me there is “no point putting prices up because there’s nobody around here who can afford to buy if I do.”
The pressure of managing spiralling utility costs while trying to keep his business afloat for the sake of his young family of four has driven him to a deep depression. His friend who owns a similar business in Harrogate has found it a little easier to absorb and adapt to utility rate increases; “yeah, it’s tough for them too but over that way they’ve gone from buying Smeg fridges to Samsung ones instead”. Defeated, his head drops as he says of his own options “I’m selling Beko and Russell Hobbs over here so how can my customers adapt?”
King Kebab is another business in Beeston that until now has attracted customers from across the city, partly because of its affordable prices. Even on a Wednesday evening the takeaway is busy and the cashier struggles to keep up with the constant flow of customers as well as the rotating donner kebab he is responsible for shaving.
Owner Adil Afzal is just as busy and tells his story between picking up the telephone orders and tending to the grill. Surely a business this busy will be able to weather the storm? But Afzal paints a bleak picture. “Look at our prices,” he says with a speedy gesture towards an overhead menu board. “Our utility bills have gone up by over £5,000 a month. I put the prices up to absorb that and see these customers?” he says, nodding his head towards the customers, “they won’t be able to afford any more takeaways. So what options am I left with?” He gestures towards the staff in the kitchen and asks, “Let one of them go?”.
He is shouting to make himself heard over the din of customers, a constantly ringing phone and the clatter of pans in the kitchen — so the kitchen hands definitely heard him, but they’re flat out, with barely enough time to be able to lift their heads from their work stations. “No way could we keep serving the amount we do if we let even one person go, but how am I going to keep paying everyone when the gas and electric companies have their hands in our tills?”
It’s heartbreaking to hear just how much of a chokehold the cost-of-living crisis has taken hold in almost all of our homes. And it’s terrifying to see how the failure to support local businesses could be the decay that ultimately destroys the very foundation of our community here in Beeston.
Germany and Portugal are offering their small businesses utility subsidies of between 40% and 65% — some even as much as 80%. But in the UK, Rishi Sunak has boasted to his own local constituents that he rewrote local authority funding formulas to take money out of deprived areas and redirect it to already privileged areas. Not only is the government simply not doing enough to support local businesses in areas like Beeston, but they are actively focussed on the targeted destruction of communities like ours. So shop local if you can and help our businesses weather the storm.
This post was written by Omar Mushtaq
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