SOUTHAMPTON business owners have described the “dire economic picture” they face due to the cost-of-living crisis and war in Ukraine.

“We could not have a worse situation than we are facing” are the words of one man whose restaurant has endured multiple lockdowns and now the soaring costs of staying open.

Boarded up shop fronts and ‘to let’ signs are a familiar sight in the city centre.

Above Bar Street alone features at least ten empty plots.

However, the owner of POPSI’S Pizza, David Hearth, warns of tough times ahead.

He said: “I fear though that 2022 is going to be very hard for everyone, not just business, and this is only the tip of the iceberg as we see more causalities on the high street over the next 12 to 18 months.”

He says it has become extremely difficult to make any profit at his eatery in Bedford Place and that the pandemic has changed customer behaviours. For example, more people opting for home delivery than eating out.

He added: “Sadly, it gets worse when you factor in our cost of goods increasing by 30-40 per cent due to the war in Ukraine and all on top of the disaster that is Brexit.

Daily Echo: David Hearth.David Hearth.

“We could not have a worse situation that we are facing. To add insult to injury we are now also dealing with unprecedented increases in utility costs with gas and electric more than double what it was last year.”

David says businesses must ask if they can hang on for better times or close their doors.

Ultimately, he is calling on the government to “stop ignoring the picture” and insists on the need for long-term plans centred on growth and stability.

Daily Echo: The former Coffee Lab store in Above Bar Street.The former Coffee Lab store in Above Bar Street.

“We have a chance to save companies, jobs and local economies but this will only happen when a government is managed properly and has ideas that are based on the future not on next month,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dorothy Martin, the director of vegan store, Rice Up Whole Foods, told the Echo she has “noticed empty shops and the city is empty”.

She said: "I think it's because, during the lockdown, everybody just got used to ordering online.

Daily Echo: Dorothy Martin.Dorothy Martin.

"Also, because of the rise in the prices of electricity and petrol, people are looking at their money more closely. We have gone down another ladder.

"I don't have enough money to play with and stock our shelves and pay our store bills."

Concerning a solution, Dorothy said: "I honestly don't know. It's just like hitting your head against a brick wall."

Spencer Bowman, the owner of the Mettricks coffeeshop chain, said: "It is frustrating when someone says that I won't come to Southampton because there is nothing here or going on. And that is just not true."

He believes the city has “potential and a lot to offer.”

The city's BID has expressed hopes for the future of Southampton retailers and eateries.

Rebecca Handley, the interim executive director for GO! Southampton seems upbeat saying that vacancy rates are currently low when compared with the rest of the country.

She stresses that many new businesses have been opening in the city over recent weeks including restaurants, Gin and Olive, The Bok Shop and Las Iguanas.

She said: “It is fantastic to see businesses choosing Southampton as they expand, with many regional independent operators opting for prime city-centre locations. GO! Southampton is committed to looking at creative ways to encourage new businesses to the city and to reduce the level of vacant units. Over the last year, we installed window vinyls designed by local artists on vacant units, both of which have now been let and/or occupied.”

But civic chiefs have vowed to grow the Southampton economy. 

Commenting on the ‘dire picture’, deputy of the city council, Jeremy Moulton, said: “As a city council administration, getting our economy growing and supporting businesses is our top priority. To that end, we have got our free evening parking. That’s going to continue indefinitely. We have got our big city clean-up. That is cleaning all of the city centre.”

The Tory councillor who represents the Millbrook ward said the administration is looking at opportunities for public realm investment below the Bargate, Queensway, East Street and Hanover Buildings. 

He added: “That should make the city centre far more attractive. That whole section is part of what we’re looking at as part of our levelling up bid in the summer. If we can secure money from the government that will transform the area.”