Chatsworth Rebirth:
The independent businesses reopening their doors after lockdown

Text Dan Kadwallader
Photos Jørn Tomter @jorntomter

During 2020 it’s felt like the cliché about it being a curse to “live in interesting times” has been truly proven right. Everyone is living through something they would not have thought possible just one year ago and no one really knows how to go about it.

Hackney in general, and Chatsworth Road in particular, is a hotbed for small, independent businesses. So many local people have taken that leap of faith and set out to establish themselves with ventures ranging from lifestyles boutiques, to restaurants and salons to upholsters. Unfortunately it’s these brave and brilliant businesses that will feel the burden of lockdown a lot more than the chains and corporations of this world.

As of Monday the lockdown is cautiously easing off and we are starting to approach the new normal. With this in mind we caught up with some of the local shop owners and trades people to see what it means to them to be able to reopen and how they intended to keep safe whilst we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic.

One such business is Sweet Interiors, run by the uncle and niece team of Timothy and Amee. “It’s been really hard for all small independent businesses to be closed this long. We don’t run with a big rainy-day fund” Timothy Explains. “We kept ourselves busy with restoration and reupholstery work and selling on Instagram but having a chat with people is one of the best parts of having the shop, So we missed it. It’s been fantastic to get back a little normality since Monday. We are limiting the number of people we will be having in the shop at one time. Also we will take evening bookings if people wish to shop solo. Lots of cleaning surface in the morning and we have hand sanitizer for people to use when coming in or leaving. We have also made masks so we can wear those as well.”

For old curiosity shop Patina the reopening couldn’t have come at a better time as next week they’ll be celebrating their 4thBirthday as a business. “We are very happy to finally be able to open the shop again, we have missed the routine and all of our lovely customers. We’re doing our best to stay safe by supplying our customers with antibacterial gel and gloves, also we’re only allowing 2 people at a time to come inside.”

The lifestyle store Triangle had recently expanded their operation when coronavirus hit “Our newly opened children’s store A Small Triangle had a brief appearance for 3 weeks before lockdown and then sadly had to close” Owners Tory and Mary tell us. It’s very pleasing to see that this set back has not dampened their enthusiasm though, “We are beyond excited to be reopened in both stores and are looking forward to welcoming all our lovely customers big and small, old and new back through doors. We’ve missed everyone so much.... a huge thank you to all our amazing customers who have shopped online during the lockdown. We’ve enjoyed doing our local deliveries by bike, meeting you all at a safe distance on the doorstep, but it’s nice to be back in the shops.”

Another person who will have certainly missed his customers is Kev, the owner and sole employee of Jelly Records, Chatsworth’s own vinyl oasis. “It’s a nice feeling to be back open again. I have really missed the interaction with all my awesome customers and chatting breeze about music and records. To keep things as safe as possible hands must be sanitised on entry, maximum of 3 people at a time and gloves are available to those who’d like some.”

Rachel of Lifestyle boutique Hop of Hackney talked to us about how they’ve been keeping going during Lockdown, as well as their plans for reopening. “Even though our door has been closed during lockdown, it's been lovely doing local doorstep deliveries and sending presents to loved ones further afield on behalf of our customers.  (Felt like a florist writing the cards some days) We now have our door open from Friday to Sunday and will continue to offer free local deliveries across the week.  We've got all the hygiene measures you'd expect in place in store and will do our best, as always, to keep your little ones amused!”

It’s obvious to all concerned that keeping both staff and customers safe is going to be the priority for everyone, and Hackney Drapers are no exception. “Before opening, we undertook a risk assessment; all staff gave their input to establish a way to work as comfortably as possible” Store manager Tolani Moibi explains to me. “The highest priority being given to staff welfare, safety, and security. We led a lot of our safety amendments by their comfort, and the government guidelines. We have enforced a 2 person max in store at any time, compulsory use of anti-bac upon entry; safety posters and visual aids for 2m distancing instore; only accepting contactless; the cornering off of shop floor space for customers to enter and reduced contact with touching stock. This has extended to cleaning main touch points regularly throughout the day, not sharing devices, telephones, and equipment.”

Another thing that Tolani mentions seems to be true for all the Chatsworth Road businesses. “So many of our customers have popped in to show their support, and their delight that we are still here to open our doors.”

It has been the local community and the regular customers that have helped keep everyone going during the crisis, and it’ll be them who help them recover as we find our new way in the world. If you can; shop local and shop independent.