Business is brisk but council branded ‘a hinderance’ as the old town wakes up after enforced Covid hibernation

By Tom McCann

With Covid restrictions lifting slowly local businesses are opening to trade again.

Walking down George Street since the start of the year has been a strange experience for many. The street, normally bustling with people in and out of all the little shops that make it what it is, has been devoid of life.

But with shops having been able to open their doors again since April 12th, George Street seems revived. Customers are back and they’re buying again—perhaps even as much as they were before, according to shop owners.

Butler and George.

Turn The Tide is a business relatively new to George Street having only opened in late 2019, the owner told Hastings In Focus: “Business has been good. We’ve only had a few months of trade really and we’ve got kids and a business and parents so it’s been difficult in many ways, but we’re through it and we’re here.”

Focussing on the positives the owners say how great customers have been since reopening: “It’s been very positive. Everyone’s been so kind and respectful of everything and each other. We’ve been really happy.”

For Butler & George, and the Old Town Tobacconists, it’s been much the same: “It’s been very busy,” Butler & George said, “basically a normal April. Last summer we actually had some of our best months ever in six years of being here.”

At the tobacconists we were told: “it’s been very strong, similar to Last April.”

But traders aren’t happy with the support they have had from Hastings Borough Council. Asked how they managed to survive during the enforced closure of their businesses and if they felt properly supported by the government Butler & George said: “We survived okay, actually—and yeah, we were. We never want to do it again, though. Money-wise, it was all fine—except for being paid on time by the local council.

“During the first lockdown they were fine, but not this most recent one. We were supposed to receive grants at the beginning of April, but received them three weeks later, which considering we have rents and other costs to meet has been particularly problematic.”

Old Town Tobacconists.

“Fortunately we got away with it,” said the tobacconists, “as we still had mail orders to keep us going. Though we lost quite a lot of money as about 70 per cent of our customers are walk-in as opposed to on the internet.”

Having faced the same issues with the borough council over late grant payments however, they Echoed Butler & George’s sentiment saying: “The council was awful. They were of no use to anybody. We were supposed to receive our grant money at the beginning of the month and only received it this week, which meant everybody had to use their own money to pay bills. They were truly dreadful from start to finish.

“They failed terribly at supplying traders—at some points they weren’t even answering their phones and last year when they widened the public footpath, they removed about 40 parking spaces, driving customers away in doing so—so in fact they were a huge hinderance.”

A spokesman for Hastings Borough Council said yesterday: “The council received the funding for the restart grant on April 6th. Payments have been slower than with previous grants because of extensive extra fraud checks put in place by central Government.

“The council’s team have been making payments as quickly as possible in these circumstances.”

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