There is no two ways about it, Newquay’s high street like all high streets in Cornwall has suffered this year.
What many thought would be the seaside’s year in terms of completing its transformation from a party town for stag and hen dos into a more affluent, all-year round family friendly hub, was turned upside down with the outbreak of the coronavirus global pandemic.
However for the traders who have had to close, reopen and close again, who have suffered and survived, there is definitely light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.
“The weeks to Christmas are not make or break for many of us on the high street,” Bush Pepper owner Chris Brookes, explained. “It may sound strange considering the year it’s been but we’re doing OK.”
Chris opened the Australian fusion restaurant on Fore Street six years ago, and apart from one season in 2018 when trading dipped, business has grown steady and is generally good.
The Aussie, moved to Cornwall with his British wife after she found work as a mental health nurse in the Duchy. A chef by trade he had been toying with opening his own restaurant for years until he finally made the jump and opened Bush Pepper.
Chris who employs between 12 and 15 staff, added: “Apart for 2018 when we had a rough year, business has been growing steadily. And 2020 despite everything, has been very busy. We were closed for three months during the first lockdown then again in November but summer was massively busy.
“We reduced capacity inside by 30 per cent. We reduced sittings to two hours and started doing early dinners at 4pm so we had time to do four sittings a day.
“On some days we had 85 people in.”
The 35-year-old father-of-two is thankful for the help from the Government, in terms of loans, grants and the business rates amnesty which have all helped to keep him afloat but he is confident the weeks and months ahead will be good.
“It seems to be the big chains and national brands and their big overheads and too many managers which are suffering when independent businesses like us are doing better,” he said.
“We’ve got bookings starting up again for December. I know New Year’s Eve we’ll take a hit but I don’t want to do seven-course dinners when I don’t know if we’ll go into another lockdown or not. We’ll stay open in January next year when it’s normally the time of the year when we’re closed. But we’ve been closed long enough I think this year.”
It is a view shared by Ade Parker and his partner Amber Bond, who run Brew and Tattoo across the road. They too have just reopened after the second lockdown, and like Chris they feel confident and almost buoyant for the future.
“The first lockdown was definitely the hardest,” Ade said. “The furlough scheme helped a lot and we retained our staff. It’s a close knit unit we have here. It’s like a family so we always wanted to retain our staff. But not seeing them at work every day was tough.”
Ade believes the enforced time off has also been positive not just for his business, as he and Amber revamped the shop and made some improvement to customers experience and ensure Brew and Tattoo was safer than what was required under the Covid regulations, but it has also allowed them to recharge and appreciate the time off too.
“It’s been good to take time for ourselves. It seems we had forgotten that we live in a beautiful place and we have the sea on our doorstep. For those in the hospitality industry who always work during the holidays the first lockdown was like having our own summer holidays. It was nice. Now we’ve reopened. It’s very much full steam ahead.
“Independent traders work really hard all year round. It’s been a very busy summer for us. I think that will translate in an even busier year next year.
“Many people who couldn’t go abroad came to Cornwall and have fallen in love with the place and will want to come back. I think 2021 will be a phenomenal year.”
“I know some businesses will not make it through winter and our high street will look different as we come out of all this. But Newquay as a whole will be better as it repositions itself as a family-friendly town.
“The town’s mentality has definitely changed. Those who are creative and inventive will thrive.”
When their high street colleagues were forced to shut shop during the two lockdowns, the Larkins kept the Pet Centre open. The family relocated their pet supermarket business from the Midlands to Newquay’s East Street three years ago and like everyone else, despite being considered an essential shop when restaurants were not, 2020 has been a struggle.
Tom and his sister Charlotte said: “We have had to adapt. We changed the way we do business. We started our online shop and even did home deliveries to people who were shielding or couldn’t come to us. We closed for a little bit at the beginning of the first lockdown to sort ourselves out and get ready.
“The second lockdown has certainly been easier in that respect. It all felt a bit weird in town during the lockdowns. It was mainly local people who shopped with us. But the summer was busy. Like a normal summer really.”
Looking forward to next year, the Larkins like others on the high street think 2021 could be a record year.
“People won’t be going abroad so much,” Tom added. “I expect the town to be busy. But then again we can’t predict anything. Who knows.”
Mel Marquis, her husband and brother-in-law own four pubs in Newquay, Charlestown and Mevagissey and employ 150 staff. Their latest acquisition is 12 Beach Road a family-friendly surf-vibe restaurant a stone throw away from Towan beach.
They opened the restaurant in February then were forced to close it down when the lockdown hit and after an extremely busy summer which saw them do up to 600 covers a day, albeit within the strict safety Covid guidelines, had to close again in November.
Mel and her general manager Steve Lamb said there remains a sense of uncertainty among businesses on the high street as no one knows if or when there might be another lockdown, which makes planning ahead more difficult.
But both remain upbeat.
“This summer was crazy busy,” Mel said. “We in Cornwall had an amazing boost in term of visitors. Our message is very much pro-visitors. We feel thankful that they came to Cornwall on holiday. Without them we wouldn’t be open.”
“Stopping and starting has been a bit unnerving,” Steve added. “It’s difficult to know how much stock we need to bring in. From a staffing point of view, the lockdowns have been hard on our staff. We’re a tight team and it caused a lot of stress and uncertainty.
“I feel that the hospitality sector has been made a scapegoat at times, but we have been busy in the summer and our focus now is on how we can improve the business and how we get people back in with confidence.
Mel said that December has been quieter then expected but it is early days and she hopes, as confidence returns, people will come out again at weekends especially as Cornwall is the only mainland county in England to be in tier 1.
“I think it will be mainly local people coming in this month until the two-week Christmas holiday when we will get more holidaymakers. As for next year, I too expect Newquay to be busy.
“Our town has done a 360 degree reinvention of itself. It’s far more vibrant than it was. It’s a just a shame that Covid got in the way this year. We all thought 2020 was going to be Newquay’s year. If all goes well, it looks like 2021 could be it now.”
Katie Stuart, who runs Fat Giraffe fashion and haberdashery shop in Bank Street with her parents and brother, said lockdown forced her to change the focus of the family business but admitted the change has been good.