"My business survived the Troubles, countless recessions and the challenge of online, but I don't think it will survive until Christmas."
hat was what a local independent retailer told me last week after hearing his business will be closed in this circuit breaker, saying he couldn't afford to lose two weeks of this all-important trading time of the year. Case studies like this are sadly all too common.
We need to be very clear - this Christmas is not about recovery; it is about the survival of thousands of independent retail and hospitality businesses that believe they will be lucky to see in the New Year.
These are businesses that are the very bedrock of our small business economy, with their owners putting their heart, soul and savings into creating jobs and offering something different on our high streets.
To make matters worse, this circuit breaker is fundamentally unfair to small businesses and independent retailers.
The large supermarkets, who have traded exceptionally well during the pandemic, can continue through the two-week circuit breaker to sell clothes, toys and books. Yet independent retailers who sell the very same products will be forced to close.
Christmas has also well and truly come early for Amazon and these large multi-national businesses whose profits will have a lot more zeros added to them, while independent retailers are forced to close.
Despite this, we need to focus on what needs to be done to move us forward and how we can get a survival strategy in place to save our local traders.
Retail NI has been working on a daily basis, outlining solutions to the ongoing crisis on our high streets and mostly, what we need to do this side of Christmas.
Covid marshals, public hand sanitisers and an effective business Covid-compliance 'scores on the doors' all need to be in place for the reopening of our high streets on December 11.
This is both important for consumer confidence and for ensuring we keep the transmission of the virus at a low level.
Retail NI has produced its Five Point Plan for safe and responsible shopping and ensured each one of our members has clear guidance about what immediate actions they need to take if a staff member tests positive. This comes on top of £10m spent by the overall retail sector on ensuring stores are safe.
Now, more than ever, we need consumers to make a special effort to support local independent retailers and hospitality businesses this Christmas. These very businesses and the jobs they support depend upon the actions that you take and remember, 70p in every pound you spend with a local independent retailer is recycled around the rest of economy, supporting farmers, suppliers and local manufacturers.
Retail NI had been lobbying Ministers for some time on a High Street voucher scheme based upon the Jersey Government's initiative as a fiscal stimulus and we are pleased that they listened and acted on our proposals.
It is vital that this voucher scheme is targeted at independent retailers and our hospitality sector to ensure the full benefit to the overall economy.
It we can safely navigate through this survival phase and start the recovery in 2021 we will need to ask - what does success look like for the post-pandemic high street?
Undeniably we need to further develop the concept of the experience economy in 21st century towns and cities as we build back better. By then we hope the new High Street Taskforce will have hit the ground running with a bold and ambitious plan to reconstruct our town centres post-Covid and to begin the long recovery process.
This recovery must ensure fully developing and implementing the concept of 'localism' to repurpose our town and city centres as unique hubs at the heart of our community, with as Mary Portas said in her ground breaking report, to reimage them as 'destinations for socialising, culture, health, wellbeing, creativity and learning'.
This is why we want to see localism 'on steroids' along with the reimaging of our high streets as destinations where residents and visitors can dwell as they work, rest and play as the central policy priorities of the Executive's recovery plan to drive future post-pandemic prosperity.
Localism is not just about supporting independent retailers; it is also about empowering people and communities to reshape and repurpose their local villages, towns and cities and above else reinvigorate the leadership model.
Our 11 local councils have a key role in the localism agenda and the Executive needs to devolve regeneration and other powers to them so they can play a fuller role in the recovery process.
Right here, right now, every single one of us can play their part to get our independent retail and hospitality businesses through this vital survival phase by making it our civic duty to shop local and support local this Christmas.
Glyn Roberts is chief executive of Retail NI