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Meet the independent traders adapting to survive during the pandemic

Reporter David Lee spoke to independent traders in the county who are continuing to support the community while grappling with the economic repercussions the likes of which society has not seen since peacetime.

David Lee

Meet the independent traders trying to keep their businesses afloat during the pandemic

Launching your own business can be can be daunting at the best of times.

But when Richard Dudman took over the running of Maidenhead’s long-established fruit and veg stall, Anthony Reynolds Fruiterers, he could have scarcely imagined he would be navigating his way through an unprecedented economic crisis just three months later.

The 44-year-old, who has worked for the company since 2001, rebranded the stall to Maidenhead Fruits but was soon faced with a High Street which had gone into hibernation due to the effect of the Government’s lockdown measures.

He said: “Everywhere was shut and it was getting quite difficult to even find somewhere to go to the toilet.

“Some customers didn’t understand why we were closing but all my staff are quite elderly and it was quite a risk for them so I had to shut it down and move to our storage area at the top of the High Street.”

The Bracknell resident said he was able to make use of the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to protect four job roles.

But with his business only in its infancy, he was unable to take advantage of the Self-employment Income Support Scheme which left him the stark choice of trying to survive on the company’s earnings or continuing trading.

He chose to stick with what he loves and is now preparing close to 200 pre-packed fruit and vegetable boxes each day from his storage unit in King Street.

“I thought ‘let’s just give it a go’ and if it doesn’t work out then I’ll just have to try and live off the money we made in the first few weeks.”

Customers can now choose from three hand-picked boxes of essential fruit and vegetables which can be picked up in a social-distancing compliant environment at his storage unit by The Rose pub.

For £35, you can get a box brimming with potatoes, carrots, onions, parsnips, salad and fruit with a medium-sized package also available for £25 and a fruit box on offer for £10.

Richard conceded that while sourcing supplies had been relatively trouble-free, the scarcity of some goods had seen him paying triple or quadruple what he normally would.

A box of cauliflowers, which has a significant export market from Spain, would normally cost between £5 to £10 rose to £25 while boxes of lemons almost doubled in price from £15 to £28.

Richard added: “Some customers may think we’re trying to rip them off but we have got to increase some prices because otherwise we’re not going to be earning anything.”

Like with so many industries, a return to some form of normal is still longed for and Richard said he hopes to see new faces flocking to his bustling High Street stall when it reopens.

“With these boxes we’ve had a lot of new customers and I’m hoping when I get back down there I’ll see them again,” he added.

“I feel our stall really brings some life to the High Street and so many people have been pleased we’ve been able to continue.”

The Government’s decision to close all cafes, pubs and restaurants to curb the spread of coronavirus has meant businesses such as The Maidenhead Wine Company have needed to ‘evolve or dissolve’ to survive.

The wholesaler has been supplying restaurants and the on-trade industry across the South of England for more than 20 years but saw its market dry-up following the lockdown announcement.

But the business, which also has a retail shop, Wine Cellar, in Bridge Street, has now changed its wholesale operation into a service which delivers to the public and those that are isolating.

Same-day delivery is on offer if you order in the morning.

Company secretary Susie Warner said: “We found ourselves in a desperate situation and it was just a case of evolve or dissolve so this was what I came up with.

“The public have been really supportive and come back and re-ordered and there’s been a massive attitude of ‘you are our local business and we want to support you’.

“At the end of the day you just have to try and do the best you can in the situation in front of you.”

In more than 40 years of trading in High Street, Langley, Rite Price greengrocers has stood firm while the world of retail has shifted to an online-dominated market place.

But every customer is a familiar face for store owner Leigh Puddle and he said the importance of serving the community has never been more important.

With many of his shoppers classed in the elderly, at-risk age groups of catching COVID-19, simple daily tasks such as picking up your vegetables for the week have suddenly become more difficult.

But the store has now ramped up its delivery service in a bid to help those in need and introduced strict social distancing measures including limitations on three shoppers at a time to protect both customers and his staff.

Leigh said: “We are a community shop and we’re on first name terms with most our customers and if they need a favour we don’t mind doing it.

“The staff have been great because they haven’t been forced to come in but they have been doing it anyway.”

When supermarket shelves were being stripped bare in March by a sudden influx of panic-buying, Leigh’s store remained stocked and helped customers tick the essential items off their shopping lists.

But he said if shoppers shun independent traders in favour of supermarkets, smaller businesses may not be around in the future to support the public.

“I’m not trying to put a spanner in the works for the supermarkets but there’s got to be a place for independents and hopefully people will give us a chance and shop the old way.

“It’s ‘use us or lose us’ and if this happens again in five years time we may not be able to help people if we don’t get the support.”

Visit to order from the Maidenhead Wine Company.

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