Braving the Weather, Earning a Living
It is drizzling outside and Sophie the hairdresser hasn’t had any customers yet. She has to go out on Woolwich High Street in London to fetch customers. Sophie, who did not want to disclose her last name, is not scared of getting soaked. Instead, she is concerned about hustling for customers to raise money to pay her rent. “It is not rainy, just spots of raindrops,” she says. “I can give out more than five complementary cards before it starts pouring.”
Sophie, a hairdresser from Nigeria, is not alone. Many other open-space vendors are badly hit by the rain, as their businesses depend on favourable weather conditions to survive. At a time when countries in Europe and the world over are facing deep economic problems, the weather on its part doesn’t help, either. Continuous downpour of rain during the month of June till mid-July has several repercussions for small businesses in England, particularly for open-space vendors.
The British weather, although known for its unpredictability, has witnessed an unprecedented amount of rainfall during the months of June and July this year after a drought was announced and a horse pipe ban imposed in some parts of England – measures which, too, affected some local businesses. Persistent rain has badly affected the lives of many small traders as, braving the downpours, they struggle to go about their daily business activities such as mounting tents to display their items: dresses, kitchen utensils, travel boxes, fruits and vegetables.
According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the output of Britain’s economy fell by 0.7 per cent, largely as a result of a decline in the construction sector. The ONS states that the scale of the impact on the economy as a result of poor weather condition is undetermined. One thing which remains certain is that businesses which thrive on favourable weather conditions – such as enterprises around the beach, mobile business units (for example, ice-cream vans) and open-space vendors – were by and large affected by the persistent rainfall this summer. The rains were so severe that the Environment Agency and the Met Office issued over 10 flood warnings and 80 alerts in England during this period.
Many migrants who occupy the Woolwich open air market find themselves battling with the weather to make any sales. During rainy days it becomes very difficult, explains a vendor who wants to remain anonymous. In such cases, vendors are left with no other choice but to dismantle their sheds to prevent the rain from destroying their items. This is disheartening for open-space vendors who pay the council an estimated £70 (US $110) a week to sell in the open space at the entrance to Powis street, generally referred to as Woolwich High Street.
These vendors sell everything from fruit and vegetables to dresses and toys. Many customers say their goods are cheaper compared to those in supermarkets. It is understandable that supermarkets would sell at higher costs because they have to pay more taxes and employ many others. However, what is salient is the fact that in a country such as Britain, a roofed open market can ease the hassle of these vendors and possibly resolve their plights in adverse weather conditions.
The problem faced by the stylists is the fact that they are cramped into one living room, making it so competitive that some hairdressers have to brave the odds of the weather to get customers. Sophie says, “On a rainy day I risk not having any customers as the rain would prevent me from going out in search for clients on the high street.” She continues, “This does not mean women do not do their hair – they do their hair regardless of the weather, but it is better on sunny days.” According to Sophie, “When it is bright with sunny spells, every woman wants to glow with the sun but when it is dull, rainy and cold, people either snuggle into bed or stay in and enjoy the warmth of their homes.”
“When the weather is good, I go out there and hand out my complementary cards. This is beneficial because sometimes, I receive calls from women who received my complementary cards,” Sophie says, “On good business days I can earn £250 (US $392) plaiting and styling people’s hair, while during bad days, I return home with nothing.”
What perturbs her during bad days is the bill she has to pay her landlord and what she has to survive on. Every stylist in Sophie’s salon is expected to pay weekly rents to a mysterious lady who manages the place. The barber in Sophie’s salon, who wants to be anonymous, says: “I am required to pay 40% per cent of my daily income to the lady who rents out seats in the saloon.” He continues: “I know it is extortion but I have no choice as I do not have the means to rent directly from the landlord.” The barber also goes out to distribute his card to clients on the street. “It is good to go out there and advertise yourself,” he says. “That way you get to have many customers which means more income to save for rainy days.”
The Marketing Manager of the Greenwich Council is yet to provide the council’s view on whether they have plans to provide roofs for these vendors at the Woolwich Open Market. Worthy of note is the fact that poor weather plays a significant role in determining the growth of local businesses, especially in times of austerity. Hairdressers who make a living from hustling for clients along the high street to get customers are feeling the pinch of the continuous downpours.
Sophie, the Nigerian hair stylist, intends to quit her job as a manager of her salon to work for someone else because she is fed up with “hustling for customers under the rain and cold”. She says she would resolve so many worries if she worked for another person: problems over customers, rents, electricity, tax, and other personal bills. If only the open space had a roof with people coming in to hide from the rain, she could have the opportunity to talk a potential client into styling their hair without fear of the rain.
Street vendors talk about their trade in this video via MediaBoxOnline.