Founded in Croydon Old Town 153 years ago, the House of Reeves furniture business has survived two world wars, the Great Depression in the 1930s and the night of riots and arson in 2011. They’ve even seen off competition from Ikea opening just over the Purley Way.
But according to Graham Reeves, the 2020 coronavirus pandemic “could be curtains” for his family business and thousands of others.
In March, the government handed more than £60million to Croydon Council to distribute to businesses in the borough in grants of £10,000 or £25,000 to help with their immediate cashflow problems while many of them were forced to close during the lockdown.
Reeves’ furniture business does not qualify for any of the government’s bail-out cash. The Retail, Leisure and Hospitality grants are only available to businesses in those industries with a rateable value of less than £51,000.
Two months on, and still unable to reopen to sell their usual lines of beds and three-piece suites, Reeves has been unable to generate income. “All around London most businesses have a rateable value of over £51,000,” Reeves told the BBC.
“Rent for many businesses will get adjourned for three months, and that’s what most have been doing, deferring.
“Unless you can negotiate at the end of June, you get a whopping bill and if you can’t pay that then it could be curtains.”
The uncertainty of the situation is also crippling for businesses and their owners, according to Reeves. “The biggest problem is the cashflow,” Reeves said.
“Another difficulty is the unknown.”
For many businesses that pay their rents quarterly, June 24 is a fast-approaching payment date.
According to a source at one large-scale commercial landlord operating across the capital, some business people have already given up.
“On one day alone recently, we had 60 businesses just hand back their keys,” the source said.
“Some businesses had been trading from our premises since the 1800s, but now they can see no future carrying on and they’ve just given up. It is heartbreaking for them.”
Some, though, like the Reeves family, retain some hope. “We’ve had a few disasters along the way and we’re quite used to managing troubles,” Graham Reeves said, recalling how one of his firm’s buildings was completely gutted by fire on the night of the riots.
“We aren’t going to close the doors and go bust. I feel if we can get open then we can make money – but we want to open safely.
“After the fire what kept the company open was the people.
“It was on its knees. Our cashflow was doomed with no furniture. But people bought stuff which gave us breathing space to sort ourselves out and get going.
“That’s what businesses will need – a little bit of buying.”
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