Image Source: Sarina Chandaria
Now I’ll admit, I’m just as wedded to the mass consumption, chain store based economy as the next girl – but if there’s one unexpected positive of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that it’s got me thinking a lot more about the importance of local and independent businesses. And it appears I’m not the only one – corner shops and independent grocery stores have reported a 63% surge in trade over the lockdown period in the UK.
Corner shops have a particular place in my heart; they are important hubs of the South Asian community across the UK, and were the destination of many a summer pilgrimage with my dadi (paternal grandmother) for a Solero. The South-Asian owned corner shop I would argue is a stalwart of British culture, even when under the branded signs of Londis or Lyca Mobile. These shops stemmed from South Asians establishing their own small businesses in the form of corner shops or local businesses as a result of racial exclusion and a lack of economic opportunity following the decline of traditional labour-intensive factory work in the 70s and 80s. We always be hustling, and by 1991, around a quarter of Asians in Britain were self-employed – this figure for Asians still sits at around 15% as of 2018 data.
The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant negative impact on small businesses of all kinds across the UK, from suffering from a lack of custom, to being unable to afford the necessary precautions to achieve “Covid-security”. Even with Rishi Sunak’s “bounce-back loan” that allows small and medium sized businesses to borrow between £2000 and up to 25% of their turnover, many of these small businesses need consumer support or they’ll fold.
Small businesses have always been important; from the character and uniqueness they lend to an area, to being an especially important income stream for minorities and women. If simulating your local economy and helping keep up a sense of community isn’t enough to convince you to buy local, then remember that purchasing locally sourced goods means that you know more about its source, and there are most likely reduced transportation emissions around your goods.
Oxfordshire local businesses, like many others around the country, are stepping up to support vulnerable children after the Conservative MPs voted not to extend free school meals for disadvantaged children until the Easter holiday next year. Spending £24m (a fraction of what was spent on the Eat Out to Help Out scheme) to feed children is apparently deepening dependency and “nationalising children” – an argument I’m sure the 4.3 million children living in poverty in the UK appreciate greatly. In Oxfordshire alone, 10,127 children are eligible for free school meals, and local businesses are providing a vital stop gap.
However, I understand that buying local isn’t always logistically possible or financially feasible. Local products by virtue of their small-batch production are usually more expensive (but arguably higher quality) than their high-street chain store equivalents. As with all things in life, you have to make decisions that make financial sense for you but are also in line with your values. For me, that looks like buying produce from local farmers markets (generally cheaper than Tesco and Sainsbury’s surprisingly), trying to eat at locally owned restaurants once or twice a week and buying more specialty items once in a while as a treat from local stores/markets in the area like Will’s Deli or East Oxford Farmers Market. All that said, I of course still feel the call of the occasional Franco Manca pizza, have the (free) Pret subscription, and enjoy a trip on the Tescalator to get some essentials.
With all that said, here are some of my particular favourite local businesses in Oxford that you might not have heard of! Many of these will continue doing takeaway food or delivery services during the lockdown so please continue to support if you fancy a lockdown treat!
281 Iffley Rd, Cowley, Oxford OX4 4AQ
When you go here, you really feel like you’re stepping into someone’s home for a meal – with dishes based off locally sourced ingredients, this is one of the best brunches in Oxford. Plus with a menu that changes almost every week, you can go back again and again. [Update: Offering takeout from 10am-2pm everyday during lockdown.]
74 Cowley Rd, Cowley, Oxford OX4 1JB
A stunning restaurant that deserves way more hype on the Oxford food scene. Everything on their weekly changing menu is likely to be gorgeous – you’ll find it difficult not to just order the whole menu. I think their onion tortilla is the best I’ve ever had, and their Santiago tart was so good that my friend and I ate it in blissful silence. [Update: Collection only takeaway available every Friday & Saturday from 5pm – 8.30pm.]
The Garden of Oxford
99/100 Covered Market, Oxford OX1 3DY
Super friendly and colourful florists located in the Covered Market with everything from vibrant bouquets to your next new houseplant friend (my latest buy from here is a Monstera plant I named Cheese). [Update: You can order online for collection and delivery during lockdown 2.0.]
The Ultimate Picture Palace
Jeune St, Cowley Rd, Cowley, Oxford OX4 1BN
First opened in 1911, with a rich and storied history, the Ultimate Picture Palace is a central part of the Cowley road cultural community and shows a wonderful mix of independent, foreign language, mainstream and classic films. [Update: Unfortunately closed during the lockdown period.]
Jericho Cheese Company
25 Little Clarendon St, Oxford OX1 2HU
A cheese lovers heaven, JCC sells British and Irish sourced cheeses, as well as traditional accompaniments of cured meats, crackers and chutneys. A little bit out of the regular student budget, but get a few friends together to split the cost of the cheese, alongside some bottles from the Oxford Wine Company, for a fancy cheese and wine night (the new Bridge Thursday?). [Update: You can’t shop in store during lockdown but you can gaze wistfully through the window whilst you shop online outside.]
Organic Deli Cafe
24 Friars Entry, Oxford OX1 2BY
Not only does this cafe offer cooked food and freshly made juices, but they’re also a wholefoods store, and a great place to pick up more speciality items like kimchi, flaxseeds or spelt flour. [Update: You can order online via their website for delivery or collection during lockdown.]
Gloucester Green Produce Market
78 The Heyes, Oxford OX1 2BU
My favourite place to buy vegetables and fruit – always seasonal and always great prices. The only downside is that you have to remember to take cash with you! [Update: GG market will be closed during the lockdown, but will re-open after lockdown ends!]
111 Walton St, Oxford OX2 6AJ
Wonderfully curated selection of produce from wine, cheese, pasta and fresh veg – honestly one of the most peaceful shopping experiences ever. Plus they have a light and airy cafe attached that serves great salad! Oh and did I mention, their restaurant is also right next door? [Update: Their cafe and restaurant are closing over lockdown, but the deli will remain open!]
St Giles’, Oxford OX1 3LU (in front of St John’s)
Need a quick lunch? This is the place – with endless combinations of wraps and toasted sandwich fillings, you could probably eat here for several weeks and never get bored. [I hope they remain open for takeaway over lockdown].
209 Banbury Rd, Summertown, Oxford OX2 7HQ
The best place to pretend you’re in Paris at this artisan French patisserie and chocolaterie. Grab an espresso and an almond croissant to go – and people watch (the best part) on your walk back home.
101 Cowley Rd, Cowley, Oxford OX4 1HU
An independent music store that sells band tees, vinyls, CDs and has a lovely cafe inside too! [Update: The store will be closed over lockdown but you can collect lattes and LPs from their takeaway hatch on the Rectory Road side of the store]
Happy Friday Kitchen
282 Cowley Rd, Cowley, Oxford OX4 1UR
Plant-based comfort food restaurant inspired by Californian flavours – my favourites are their loaded fries and Buddha dog. Plus, if you want a treat – they do deep fried cookie dough balls (!) [Update: Open for delivery and take out during lockdown.]