I don’t know: is its belief in one’s ability, giving it a try and being brave? And do the big boys do their homework? Perhaps it’s at this time of the year – as 2020 unfolds and the prospect of another twelve months are beginning to take hold – that those spirited individuals weigh up the odds and decide to call it a day… or soldier on!
“Rents in Main Street are absolutely ridiculous and highly exorbitant,” you will hear shop, bar and cafe owners and managers – as well as those in the know – proclaim. I try and put two and two together in my very limited business mind and can’t work out how they manage year in year out. Yes, we’ve just come out of what could be described as the most money-spinning and perhaps very profitable period of the year: that’s four or maybe six weeks of really good business for many – and although some businesses weren’t too happy as Christmas came closer, things improved in the last few days (as usual leaving it all till the last minute) and sales improved for many. But the year has many more weeks and our establishments need to get through 12 months to stay in the black and not slip into the red! There are those wonderful rents to meet, rates, taxes, wages, social insurance and other insurances, maintenance bills, health and safety requirements to sign up to and stick to, suppliers’ bills coming through the post whilst some items of stock are not moving and the slightly more abstract, but equally important issue, of keeping your business relevant and `of the day’ in order to attract the discerning, potential customer… a heavy task! Shall we also include the `Brexit saga’ and the uncertainty that brings? The exchange rate is not beneficial for Euro holders from abroad and to boot, one of your female staff members is on maternity leave and you have to employ another person to cover, at extra cost! Do you sleep at night?
I parade up and down our Main Street quite a lot in my retirement, on message duty, on my way to meet an `interview victim’ for one of the three magazines I write for, or observing the world go by and noticing how busy (or otherwise) shops and cafeterias are, as I sit sipping another coffee or a glass of wine… quite interesting! Some shop owners will tell you, “Yes, you may see the street quite busy with many would-be customers in some shops but how many are walking out with a purchase?” Most are `just looking’ – which is the common reply. I also notice new businesses springing up quite often, considering those exorbitant rents they’re expected to pay, some seem to be going nowhere, and that’s when I really feel for them and think have they done their homework with proper research? Is that going to sell here? Have they been told Gibraltar’s on its way to becoming the next Monte Carlo or Puerto Banus? Do we have enough individuals amongst our population of that standing who can afford those items you hope to sell, or are cruise liner passengers and cross frontier guests from across the way and further afield, in that `money bracket’ also? So days and weeks and months pass and not a soul venturing to make a purchase in those stores with the exception of one or two. Again, not being a business person myself I understand you have to be financially prepared to prop up the investment during the lean times and give a business, even up to a couple of years, before it gets off the ground commercially up and running, hoping lights begin to flicker at the end of the tunnel… a glimmer of hope, maybe! Notwithstanding, I genuinely don’t see some of those enterprises making ends meet even over time, and coming out the other side successfully solvent. I am also told some businesses have other interests running simultaneously in the export market or have other business interests, that, would at least make some sense but you still wouldn’t want to keep a business going for long, if it’s not making some sort of profit. Consequently, I’ve noticed the odd one or two cutting their losses and closing down – makes sense! Restaurants and cafes seem to do quite well but again they tell me, `all that glitters isn’t gold’ and they too, have a lot of expenses to get through and I would imagine quite a bit of wastage also, if you don’t keep on top of things as regards what sells and doesn’t sell in food and drink. As far as eateries and bars are concerned, some have frequent `staff turnover’ issues, as individuals move on and newcomers need time to be brought up to speed, which doesn’t help the smooth running of what may well be a normally well run restaurant. And if you have a customer complaining of a `bad food experience’ and word gets around in a congested place like Gibraltar, you could be in for bad times and more headaches to contend with, proving it’s not all smooth running with bells and whistles at the end of the month making lots of money… a common misconception!
I raise my glass to the `little businesses’ also, like individuals who start up in a little shop somewhere selling confectionery or other items and try very hard to keep it going. It must be hard with not much in the way of back-up finances and having to spend long hours at their `place of work’ in order to keep the place running and solvent in order to obtain a small income. Those that set up at Sunday markets too, deserve a pat on the back. You don’t see too many punters actually buying much off them but they’re there, every week, come rain or shine so it must be worth their while and highly commendable regardless.
Street markets have been given a try from time to time, but somehow don’t seem to get off the ground. It would be nice to see a well run market weekly or once or twice a month, well organised with standardised set-ups as in huts, sheds, cabins or canopies not unlike the Christmas one on-site at the Boulevard during Christmas which looked great. Although, as great as it looked amongst the Christmas lights and trees, was it well attended? Were residents and visitors reminded it was there? Not everyone reads the local newspapers, watches GBC television or listens to Radio Gibraltar and I think a simple sign, set up on the pavement sign-post by Mothercare in Main Street pointing that-a-way saying CHRISTMAS MARKET OPEN with an arrow pointing down towards Gibtelecom and Line Wall Road, would have been a great boost with tourists and locals heading towards it in larger numbers I’m sure. Perhaps next year! So, to all businesses large or small you are to be commended for, in many cases, venturing into the unknown, putting in a lot of hard work – not to mention the financial investment – and soldiering on through the hard times and all seasons with, hopefully, true dedication. Good luck to you in 2020. Trying your best, you deserve much praise!