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Vinegar Hill vows to survive retail crisis

Although the current restrictions are likely to signal the death knell for many vulnerable retailers, others are confident they will weather the storm.

Vinegar Hill has been offering high-quality gifts and homeware in Stratford since it was established 23 years ago by Beth Austin and her family.

The business has steadily grown over the years and there are now ten other Vinegar Hill branches in England.

Beth described the gradual closing down of the stores, depending on what tier they were in, as “devastating”.

She added: “It’s such a critical time for us. We’ve moved seasonal stock out of the stores that closed in December over to those that were still open to try and sell it.”

The most challenging aspect, she added, was the uncertainty: “It’s frustrating not knowing how long restrictions will last. Do we plan for a month or longer?”

She added: “The government must be able to forecast and see a trend or pattern with what’s going on. I know they’re probably desperately trying to keep businesses going and support them but it literally is, ‘you’re closing at midnight’. That is hard – it means you can’t do anything.”

Despite what she estimates as currently a 20 per cent loss in trade, Beth reckons Vinegar Hill is one of the lucky ones which will survive the current crisis.

“We’re fortunate that we are an established business with lots of local support,” she said. “But I do think the high street is going to have a massive shake-up. Retailers that are on slightly uneven ground before the pandemic will find it a very challenging time. I feel so sorry for them and those in hospitality.”

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