Beer shops anxious about extended lockdown period and future of UK high street

Beer shops across the UK are fearful about the future of the UK high street, alongside concerns about their ability to continue to operate as delivery-only businesses if the lockdown period is extended further.

Jen Ferguson, co-owner of beer shop Hop, Burns & Black in southeast London, told DRN: “I have enormous fears for the high street generally. The stats for March show that alcohol retailers have been one of the few sectors to show double digit growth during this awful time, but who else will be left at the end of this? The high street was already in a perilous position before this happened. It is grim to think what it may look like once this is over.”

Jules Gray, co-owner of Hop Hideout in Sheffield, told DRN: “My concerns are for the whole eco-system. Especially as no-one knows or has guidance yet on when hospitality venues can/ should reopen; which is a huge chunk of revenue for businesses and goes to the costs of goods and services – such as wages.

“I think there will be a significant number of beery businesses that go – whether it is financial or through deciding to call it a day after huge mental and emotional rollercoaster. Unless there is more Government funding and support to access for the industry.

“Another concern is whether this will put off the next generation of workers (or new business owners and entrepreneurs) going into the industry, as it has been hit so hard and is challenging.

"We also wonder whether online shopping will be the future (and whether we would therefore have no choice but to adopt that business model), and whether the impact o nthe high street will be so devastating that there just won't be one."

James Hickson, who owns two We Brought Beers stores in London, said: “The next 18 months is going to be weird and I think we can weather it but I am fearful for the future of the high street and breweries too.

“I don’t know for sure, but I suspect many breweries were loss-making or were just breaking even anyway. I suspect we will see a big clearing out of breweries that had businesses which were just not sustainable.”

Many UK bottle shops have chosen to offer a delivery-only service in order to protect both staff and customers from unnecessary social contact. Bottle shops often include a drink-in element and therefore many have also had to face the immediate drop-off of one income channel as a result of the closure of the on-trade.

On a more positive note, most beer retailers are reporting an increase in demand for beers, driven by a closure of the on-trade and a desire from many loyal consumers to support local business, although this has come with the additional challenges of keeping up with demand often with a reduced number of staff.

Bottle shops have been able to take advantage of the governments furlough scheme and in some cases a business hospitality grant. Some are also trying to negotiate rent holidays or reductions from landlords.

Hickson added: “Personally I have chosen to spend time with my family now and because I have had to furlough my staff I have limited the deliveries to once a week, but I understand that some beer shops are really working very hard and I think that is the right thing to do.

“Drinks retailers are getting more trade now while others are shut and it makes sense for some businesses in this sector to make as much money as they can now because we don’t know what the future will be.”

DRN has contacted a number of beer shops across the country and these interviews will be published regularly in a new series about beer shops in lockdown. In the first of these, DRN talks here to Jen Ferguson from Hop, Burns & Black 

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