BUSINESSES have called for residents to support their high streets after possibly “the worst January” they have ever seen.

Owners of shops, cafés and restaurants say they are feeling the pinch as neighbouring businesses have closed and more people have stayed at home with the rise of Omicron.

It comes after yesterday Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Plan B rules, including mandatory mask wearing, would be scrapped next week as cases drop.

It’s a glimmer of hope for businesses hoping to entice shoppers and diners back in. Many told the Daily Echo they need support from their communities to get through “tough times”.

Daily Echo: Alex Yildiz, owner of Cosy Café in Eastleigh.Alex Yildiz, owner of Cosy Café in Eastleigh.

Alex Yildiz, owner of Cosy Café in Eastleigh said he has “never seen a slower January” adding the town is quiet when they had expected to be at their busiest.

The business on Market Street had “a lot of expectations” going into the Christmas period after a refurbishment in the first lockdown, but when Omicron hit, Alex said it all “went downhill”.

He said: “We had a very quiet Christmas period and now it’s a lot worse than what it was in December and November. If you can, try your best to support, not just us but every single local business.”

He added: “Eastleigh has got a lot of elderly people and the majority of my customers are middle aged and elderly. They were quite scared to go into crowded places.”

Daily Echo: Cosy Café in Eastleigh.Cosy Café in Eastleigh.

Meanwhile, in Southampton, businesses painted a similar picture with one, Rice Up Wholefoods, fearing it may shut within a year due to nearby closures.

Based at Hanover Buildings since 2013, the store serves vegan, organic, gluten-free, and plastic-free products. Store Director Dorothy Martin told the Echo: “The lockdown has been a very difficult time for us, and we are not able to pay our rent for the first time since we opened.

“Southampton became a ghost town during the lockdown. And when Debenhams and Laura Ashley closed, our footfall dropped a bit, and we started seeing fewer people on this side of the city.”

Now the store says it is doing everything it can to stay open, even starting an online crowdfunding campaign with the aim of raising £20,000.

The 75-year-old added: “It would break my heart if we had to close the store for good.”

Daily Echo: Dorothy Martin, Store Director at Rice Up Wholefoods, Hannover Buildings, with a member of staff. Dorothy Martin, Store Director at Rice Up Wholefoods, Hannover Buildings, with a member of staff.

Bargate councillor John Noon, said he is aware of the problems and was very disappointed when Debenhams closed but added that he believes the future will be “a lot brighter once the re-development plans are in action.”

Acknowledging the concerns of shop owners, the councillor urged residents to support local independent businesses.

Vegan restaurant, Café Thrive, also at Hanover Buildings, similarly noticed a drop in customers.

Owner Sarah Abbott said: “When we first opened up, we were busy right away. But, with the lockdown and the closure of Debenhams, we have noticed a change in footfall.

“However, it was a little less challenging as we were able to use delivery apps and click and collect services to reach our customers.”

Some business owners are optimistic the tide is already turning.

Daily Echo: Sukhdev Raj, the owner of RJS International Food Store.Sukhdev Raj, the owner of RJS International Food Store.

Sukhdev Raj, the owner of RJS International Food Store, opened his shop in November 2019 and faced issues when Eastleigh’s High Street and Market Street closed to vehicles.

Having not taken a salary since opening, the business owner said he has had to let one member of staff go, but is now hoping that next year he will be in a position to start taking pay.

He said his business has seen a “slight increase” in trade, with more people choosing to buy products to consume at home.

“Omicron I would say hasn’t really affected the business,” he said. “People are going out less, but eating and drinking at home.”

Daily Echo: RJS International Food Store.RJS International Food Store.

Southampton’s Director of Public Health, Dr Debbie Chase, wants people to stay safe. She said: “We are proud of our city and community for coming together and doing everything they can to restrict the spread of COVID-19.

“COVID-19 is still with us, and so by continuing to practise COVID safe behaviours such as washing your hands regularly, wearing a face covering in crowded public spaces, regular testing, self-isolating when required to do so and, most importantly, getting vaccinated and boosted when eligible, we can continue to keep ourselves and those around us safe.”

Additional reporting by Shivalika Puri.