Durham small business owners discuss cost of living


Several Durham businesses, all of which have suffered huge financial repercussions during the cost of living crisis, have called on the government to take swift action against rising costs and reduced trade.

They want to see better support for business owners, a reduction in food and utility costs, and a push to restore public confidence in spending.

Speaking to The Northern Echo, many Durham merchants and businesses said their hopes and sales had been boosted by the appointment of new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on October 25.

But business owners said they would not survive the winter if the state of the economy did not continue to improve.

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An employee of Durham Indoor Market said he had seen a huge increase in trade since Sunak was appointed prime minister – but believed Truss’s premiership had seriously damaged the economy and consumer confidence .

They said: “I’m hopeful – but maybe it’s desperation. There’s definitely a lot of work to be done, but I think people have found some confidence already.

“It was always obvious that Truss was overwhelmed, and she knew it from the day she started – business was bad with Truss in power.”

James Gardener, the owner of Bean Social, a cafe on Durham’s chaotic North Road, said his business had also suffered significantly over the past two years.

The Northern Echo: Bean Social is a well-known coffee and cake spot - but it's still struggling. Bean Social is a well-known place for coffee and cakes – but it’s still struggling. (Photo: Phoebe Abruzzese)

“Compared to where we were two years ago, we’re seeing a 60% loss in business, and in a good week, we’re just breaking even. We’re losing money.”

Regarding the cost of living crisis, James found that the cost of some ingredients had increased, but the cafe simply stopped serving them, operating on a reduced menu to keep costs as low as possible.

On the new prime minister and politics in general, James thinks the whole system is “pompous”.

Read more: North Yorkshire food banks ask Rishi Sunak to make a change

For new business owners, economic instability is particularly frightening. Miles Nelson, the owner of Bookwyrm, a queer bookstore recently opened on the market, says their introduction into the business world has been “really scary” due to the cost of living crisis.

The Echo of the North: Photo: Graham SoultPhoto: Graham Soult (Photo: Graham Soult)

“We’ve been open for three months and started trading just before costs got really high. There’s been so much political turmoil recently – as a business owner, if I’m not laughing, I’ll be crying. ”

When asked what he would like to see from the new prime minister, Miles said: “I would like to see him put a cap on utilities or cut tariffs completely. Electricity is one of our most big costs, and having a cap would help everyone so much.”

H&H Cakery, a bakery in Durham Indoor Markets, also opened recently and has been struggling with the cost of living.

Owner Halime Dursun said the company is facing a “difficult cost crisis”, where it sees wholesale product prices rising every day.

As a bakery, electricity, gas and food costs have a huge impact on profits, and Halime implored the government to reduce business tax and put in place measures to ensure food price stability , so that it can continue to trade.

The Northern Echo: Many retailers from Silver Street to Durham are seeing prices rise and trade fall.  Photo: Sarah CaldecottMany retailers from Silver Street to Durham are seeing prices rise and trade fall. Photo: Sarah Caldecott (Photo: Sarah Caldecott)

The feeling that the government needs to do more seems to be shared by all traders. A business owner said: “People can’t spend money and go to supermarkets above markets and high streets.

“People want something good but not so good, so we’re missing out on trade because we’re better quality. Government needs to incentivize people to spend – subsidies are helpful, but they’re just band-aids when the problem concerns the whole country. They must restore the faith.”

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