The Chester blog

Prior to this year’s terrible events That Beer Place had established themselves as one of the most popular of the new breed of market traders, with a queue leading out of the door. As we all know the world changed drastically back in March. Owners Lisa and Dale Lord spoke about the massive challenges they have faced and the fight for survival.

” We were optimistic initially , when we went into the first lockdown” says Lisa. “We thought, 6 months max, and we can ride that out, we’ll be fine. Now its dragging on and we don’t know where the end is, no one knows. We need a vaccine , who knows when that will arrive, I don’t see anything returning back to normal until that happens. In the meantime, we wonder how long we can continue to tread water.. it has to be a sensible business decision at some stage to make . there is a line where you say “we can’t carry on.”

” After 6 weeks of lockdown, we realised things were not gonna change for a while, so we got our website built so people could order online and we could deliver. After a certain date people were allowed to come in and buy things to take away, but access was a bit restricted in the market which made it a bit of a challenge. ” Essential food stores in the market continued to trade through lockdown, with access limited to a small section of the building. “We were classed by the government as an essential retailer, but the challenge for the council was that they didn’t want people wandering around the market aimlessly. “

Like many other businesses that were forced to adapt That Beer Place moved towards an online offering. Explains Dale, “When people met you on the doorstep they just wanted to talk to you because they were missing the interaction ! Especially in their pyjama’s at 3oclock in the afternoon, excited about beer !”

Pubs were allowed to reopen on the 4th July, a nervous time with businesses challenged to introduce the required Covid safety measures. “The market offers a good level of protection , people aren’t going to come and get wasted , they come here to taste things and experience things. We weren’t hit like the pubs in the city who were desperate for a pint” says Dale. “We split the team across different parts of the market, so orders were being taken in one place, they were being radioed through to us, we had a whole set up in place to try and ease any congestion in the shop.

“A lot of the money from the Government grant went into the website, and altering our stock processes. The shift from suppliers was quite rapid, the credit that you were often offered disappeared pretty much overnight. Everyone wanted payment at the moment that the stock delivered. So cash flow massively changed during lockdown. The financial implications of that meant that the 10k grant you got for that went in a heartbeat, on just trying to survive. The debts still rack up, when income disappeared overnight , its crazy. But we are here and we are surviving. “

The new measures introduced by the Government are “interesting” says Dale diplomatically . “You can’t sit in the shop itself, the eating area opposite you can sit in. We have gone from room for 84 people to a max of 18. We are lucky unlike some people in the city, at least we have the communal seating areas in the market. But that brings its challenges with table service, theres only one of us running the shop we have to be running in and out, serving people. It does mean that for the number of customers we have, our staff ratio is a lot higher Everything is taking longer but we are trying to manage the customer experience.

” The blanket 10 o clock finish is hitting everyone else in the city, the restaurants and bars, takeaways can only do deliveries after 10 o’clock, a lot of people have been hit by it. On our late nights we close at 10 anyway so its less of an issue for us, but we have definitely seen that less people are willing to come out, the volume of traffic has decreased significantly. ” Currently customers can order at the bar to order but staff have to take the drinks over to the table. “Theres no logic to it. It takes 15 seconds to pull a pint, but the rules state I have to follow you over to your table. It doubles exposure , theres a lot of journeys and it makes it really difficult.

“The ideal situation if you look at Altrincham market or the Baltic market , they have a centralised app to order from, and wi-fi that works throughout the building. This building is a concrete bunker with no communal wi-fi. Simple things like that could make a massive difference. The footfall numbers are severely depressed in comparison to what they were, its kind of a good thing in that we don’t get crowds, we can manage things. Its no good for our till but people are safe. ”

There are some positives. “I think we have got closer to our customers. ” says Lisa. “When we have had good customers back in before the new restrictions we have been able to have some good conversations and recommendations about types of beer. A lot of customers have broadened their horizons during lockdown. Dale says that removing the seating in the shop has allowed take out customers to better see the product range.

“It would be wrong for me to say everything is doom and gloom, it just feels like it most mornings when you wake up ! ” he says. Yet the future for That Beer Place is shrouded in uncertainty like every other hospitality venue. The team say that it is impossible to plan with things changing so rapidly. Lisa comments that “Christmas is going to be a massive blow, because that period is what hospitality traditionally relies on . We are taking it week by week and if things start heading in a downward direction, we’ll have to make some decisions. We are keeping our heads above water and trying to survive. Lisa .

Dale, upbeat says that “as long as we can pay the bills and our staff, TBP is a project based on a passion for good drinks and chatting with people , if we can keep that alive to eventually thrive in a the new world, we will. You have to be pragmatic, we are going to have depressed customer numbers, and depressed customers for quite some time. We are not alone in this, we are all suffering, you just battle on . ” When asked about involvement in the new market currently being built Lisa replies :

“It feels odd we are being asked about it, we don’t even know if we’re gonna exist! ”

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