Third lockdown spells trouble for New Malden’s Korean businesses

Businesses in New Malden’s large Korean community have warned that England’s current lockdown is having a more damaging impact on revenue than the first two.

While Covid measures led to a reduction in footfall and profit throughout 2020, the struggle to survive has worsened since the introduction of Tier 4 in December and the subsequent lockdown.

Joon Han, owner of Korean chicken restaurant Chick and Beers, said: “We have been beginning to find it quite difficult. Revenue has dropped significantly.”

Han said that he felt “blessed” to not feel the economic ramifications of the first lockdown, due to an increase in takeaway sales. However, Han thinks a combination of customers starting to feel “financial strain” and concerns over the new variant is stopping locals from ordering.

“Even if it is just takeaway and delivery, people might just be trying to be a little bit more careful,” he said.

New Malden is said to be home to up to 20,000 Korean residents, making it one of the largest Korean communities in Europe. The suburb also has dozens of Korean restaurants and shops, many of which are small, independent or family-owned businesses.

Small businesses have borne the economic brunt of the pandemic, with nearly 235,000 estimated to have closed down within the first six months of it beginning, according to a report by insurance company Simply Business.

A spokesperson for Korean-Japanese restaurant KJ, based on New Malden High Street, said that while their footfall “significantly” reduced through 2020, the situation is now getting worse.

“This lockdown, we’ve noticed an even further reduction [in footfall]. 70 per cent less,” they said. “That impacts our profits.”

Not enough government support

Throughout the pandemic, many hospitality businesses have been eligible for government grants to help cover loss of income.

When the third lockdown was announced in January, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a new package of support, with one-off grants of up to £9,000 on offer.

For many small businesses, the money does not stretch far enough.

“It hasn’t been much. It’s helpful that they are supporting, but it hasn’t really been that much. We still have the rent fees,” said KJ’s spokesperson.

There is now “not much” more of lockdown the business can take before it is forced to close for good.

It is not just restaurants that are facing difficulties as a result of the current restrictions and new Covid strain.

A spokesperson for hair salon TOVI, based on New Malden’s Park Road, said the salon would not be able to re-open easily once lockdown is lifted, due to how easily the new variant spreads.

“Being a hair salon, there is still a lot of personal contact between the hairdresser and the customer, which means we have to be extra cautious,” the spokesperson said.

“It’s not going to be easy. We will have to take more precautions – more than last time.”

While the government’s financial support has helped TOVI through the pandemic, seven months without other income has taken its toll.

Purchasing masks, sanitiser and plastic dividers in order to ensure the salon is Covid-secure has proven costly, while many customers have continued to cut their own hair after having to do so while the salon was shut.

“Throughout the whole lockdown process, many people have started to cut their own hair. It impacts business for us,” the spokesperson said.

“It has been quite a lot of pressure and stress emotionally.”

Despite ongoing hardship, businesses remain hopeful that there is a light at the end of the tunnel at some point in the future.

“In a year’s time we just hope to be working hard, and happy, and be able to financially recover,” TOVI’s spokesperson said.

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