Independent suit hire shop ‘didn’t take a penny for 12 weeks’ during lockdown but remains optimistic about future

With its doors closed and no online presence, one of Ely’s independent clothes shops “didn’t take a penny” for 12 weeks throughout lockdown.

Running an independent suit hire and formalwear shop during a pandemic was - according to James of Ely owner Andrew Cox - “really bad” for the business.

He said, previously, there was no need for a website because “we’ve always done well enough with the physical shop and we didn’t want the distraction of effectively a second company.

With no income during that time, he said the government’s support “saved the day”, having furloughed staff, received a grant and had the shop’s rates cancelled.

Andrew is now planning to set up a website “just incase there is a winter lockdown”, but in the meantime said that “customers have come back where they need to.

However the “lack of any formal events” has had a damaging impact on sales.

“With virtually no weddings, social events, or Newmarket Racecourse days, there hasn’t been a great reason to buy nice clothes and dress up.”

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Instead of splashing out on a suit, Andrew thinks that people “are just buying the bare essentials”.

The increase in people working from home has also led to a reduction in the number of suits being sold.

“We’re now selling more polo shirts and sweaters instead.”

Looking ahead, Andrew said “we really need things to be back to normal from Easter onwards, otherwise there will be problems.”

He is, however, confident of things resuming to how they were: “I think the virus will get weaker and we’ll get better at managing and treating it.

Something else that has had a knock on effect from Covid-19 is the rise in online shopping, he said.

“Hopefully, people will come back to the shops and we haven’t lost a whole block of high street shops to the internet.

“I’m hoping people are getting fed up with spending an hour and a half trying to order one shirt, and instead think that they’ll pop in the local shop and next year everything will be wonderful again.”

On the other side of that argument, he thinks that lockdown has made people appreciate their independents much more.

“They appreciate us more than ever; they’re coming in and saying ‘we’re so glad you’re still here’ and ‘we want to support you’.

“We’ve had people buying things they don’t particularly want or need, in addition to what they came in for.”

And, by having so many independents in Ely, he thinks it gives the city “a point of difference from other towns.

“I think market towns like this will make a comeback, but big cities with all the bland national chain stores - coupled with a fear of travelling on public transport, going to big shopping centres - poses a real problem.

“Whereas, here in Ely, you’re out in the fresh air, in and out of a shop in not too long, it’s healthier and probably more fun.”