VOICES OF LEWISHAM
‘I have businesses calling me asking me “what am I going to do? How am I going to feed my kids?” It’s horrible as I don’t have an answer.’
Jaime Blum is the CEO of the La Placita shopping centre on New Cross Road. La Placita has a variety of South American businesses including restaurants, a bakery, beauticians and hairdressers. He explains to us the effect COVID-19 has had on the shopping centre and its business owners.
“COVID-19 has been devastating to many businesses in the area. Everybody is very upset by the second lockdown, wondering how they’re going to go ahead. Their business is the only way to make money for their families, they’re not on any benefits, and they want to work. This is their dream, this is how people from South America have been brought up, ‘one day you’ll have your own business’, even if it’s a small shop. This is their livelihood, this is our culture. We’ve never gone through anything like this before. I have businesses calling me asking me ‘what am I going to do? How am I going to feed my kids?’ It’s horrible as I don’t have an answer.
“The mall is made up of 18 small businesses, they rent their unit. In the first lockdown every business closed. The restaurants were not able to connect to platforms like Deliveroo. We have hairdressers, a massage parlour, we also have a bar, where people can normally come down and enjoy a bit of karaoke. These all closed. So the whole mall closed, it was a really bad time for all of these families.
“In this second lockdown, only the food businesses have remained open, trying to keep their business alive. They are now exploring the takeaway option, but less people are coming out of their house. The shops in the mall are very elaborate, we have people from all over South America, and their food cannot be prepared in five minutes. Some businesses have said they’ve only received two takeaway orders in one day, all these resources being used for no profit. Sometimes they spend more money by being open, paying a chef, but at the moment this is the only option to keep their business open. They’re very worried about it, they’ve invested all their savings into their businesses, setting up a kitchen. And all of the food products, they will go off by the end of lockdown.
“All businesses survived the first lockdown, this is thanks to Lewisham Council. The landlord charged me the rent for the warehouse during lockdown, Lewisham Council provided us with a hardship grant which allowed us to continue. We just need to wait to see what will happen during this lockdown.
“Before the pandemic, many businesses would only think about themselves. Many businesses wouldn’t talk to other businesses, they didn’t care. But because of this pandemic, most business owners have more respect and friendship with other businesses. They have recognised they need to come together to fight this challenge. They all get along, they help each other to keep the whole mall open. It made me feel like it’s not just about money, it’s about coming together and supporting one another.
“Sometimes I think, why did I put myself into this business? But then I remember that I wanted to give people opportunities with small businesses. Sometimes it’s difficult to get opportunities, especially if you live in London and English is not your first language. I’m going to fight for them.
“The police would run events within the mall talking to young people about gun, knife violence and drugs. We’re very open to these type of events. We encourage the community to come to us as we have sufficient room to hold them. It’s very upsetting not being able to hold these now, we can’t communicate with the community like we used to.
“However we understand, we know we have to look after each other, wear a face mask and social distance and we respect that. I feel for everyone who has suffered from this virus, so we have to follow the requirements from the Government, we understand how serious this is.
“We hope to make our business great again, to be able to offer the best and to continue helping the community. Our greatest hope will be to show all of our future customers the delicious products and food we sell that comes from different backgrounds and regions in the world.”
We spoke to Jaime in November 2020.