INDEPENDENT businesses in Northwich are asking people to “use us or lose us” as they battle to keep their heads above water during the cost of living crisis.

As the economy struggles to recover in the post-pandemic era, soaring prices have resulted in millions of people around the country struggling to cope.

Food, gas and electricity prices are the highest they’ve been in decades with the rate of inflation now close to 10 per cent. 

The impact the crisis is having on ordinary working families is also being felt by businesses as people have less money to spend in shops and across the hospitality industry.

Those pressures are felt even more acutely by independently owned businesses as they often operate to much finer margins and don’t have the added luxury of being able to cut back on a large workforce in a bid to balance the books.

We spoke to some of the town’s small businesses and asked them about what life is like at the moment and their hopes for the future.

Phil Bower, who has owned Northwich Art Shop for the last eight years and he said sales have been down since mid-February.

He said he totally understands the predicament people are in and the fact they simply don’t have the money to spend the did a year or so ago.

“We had quite a strong January into February, but as soon as they started talking about increases in energy prices, you could see the difference,” he said.

“Sales basically dropped through the floor at that point.

“But it doesn’t always just affect custom, because you wear two hats in that you’ve got your business, but you’ve got your private house too, so you can see how scary it is.

“And then we had the invasion of Ukraine, which bumped fuel prices through the roof.

“From our point of view, I’d say we’re running on sales being about 40 per cent down.”

Northwich Guardian: Phil Bower outside Northwich Art Shop, which he has owned for the past eight yearsPhil Bower outside Northwich Art Shop, which he has owned for the past eight years

After the pandemic-enforced lockdowns, Phil diversified the company and set up a website to conduct sales, but despite that, sales are around 60 per cent lower than before Covid.

“That sort of diversification for us was the only thing that kept us alive,” he added.

“It was by no means busy online, but it was always enough.

“The problem we have now is – where do we go from here?

“Businesses around town began to get a bit anxious a month or so ago saying ‘if you don’t use it you’re going to lose it’ – which is right, but we can’t make people feel guilty, because they simply haven’t got the money to spend.”

Phil has called on more from the Government, and whoever replaces Boris Johnson as leader, particularly around spiralling energy costs.

“It’s disgusting that we’re in this position,” he said.

“The Government just don’t seem prepared to do anything.

“My energy costs have already gone up 135 per cent for the business.

“That’s £2.5k of turnover to simply pay EDF for the privilege of putting the lights on.

“I think the next six months are going to be absolutely critical.

“What we need is some strong leadership from those that can have an impact.

“The answer isn’t knocking footfall or our customers, because the people in Northwich are working so hard to keep the town centre alive.

“There are so many events going on, and they are put on because of the contributions of local businesses.”

“My positive message is – Northwich Art Shop has been here since 1981, and it is my intention that we will continue to be here and continue to look after our customers and serve our community.

“As a rather large supermarket once said, ‘every little helps’.”