‘My brilliant cafe customers have kept us going this year’: Northern Quarter business boss on 2021’s challenge

Shoppers in Manchester city centre. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty ImagesShoppers in Manchester city centre. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images
Shoppers in Manchester city centre. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images | AFP via Getty Images
After another tough year with Covid restrictions, retailers are relying on loyal support from local people.

It has been another tough year for businesses in 2021 - leaving Manchester’s independent traders and retailers more reliant on their loyal audiences and customer bases than ever.

In the run-up to Christmas one hospitality business owner has shared how the public has continued to back his cafe throughout the pandemic.

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And figures suggest that more of us have been thinking about home-grown, local small concerns when doing our Christmas shopping this year.

Black Milk’s story

Through the ups and downs of the Covid-19 pandemic, customers have continued flocking to Northern Quarter dessert bar Black Milk.

Dessert bar Black Milk serving from a vehicle in the Northern QuarterDessert bar Black Milk serving from a vehicle in the Northern Quarter
Dessert bar Black Milk serving from a vehicle in the Northern Quarter | Black Milk

The business started out around seven years ago and was initially a cereal cafe in Affleck’s, before moving to its current larger premises on Oldham Street and offering a range of treats to tantalise the sweetest tooth.

Andy Young outlined the challenges the last year and a half has brought and explained how the business has had to adapt to ensure it could continue serving its customers.

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He said: “It has obviously been a hectic 18 months and the world has changed multiple times. We went from having a very busy cafe to having to lock the doors for the health and safety of our staff and the public.

“The e-commerce side of the business is now years ahead of where we thought it would be.”

Black MIlk’s salted caramel and biscoff pancakesBlack MIlk’s salted caramel and biscoff pancakes
Black MIlk’s salted caramel and biscoff pancakes | Black Milk

Andy said the customers had continued coming to support the business’ team of around a dozen staff throughout the pandemic and the various waves of coronavirus that have hit.

He said: “December was still as busy as it has always been. We’ve got a younger demographic who were more willing to go out and enjoy themselves. Everything seems to be going well.

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“People have supported us massively. When we opened the doors they were delighted to enjoy our desserts, initially for takeaway. Then the council helped us serve more people outside in summer.

“People have been enjoying Black Milk any way they can and there has always been demand.

“Everyone has really pulled together, which is amazing. They understand the situation and want to get back to normal enjoying time with their friends safely.”

Is this support for independent businesses going on across Manchester?

There is some evidence to suggest Andy is far from the only independent entrepreneur in the city receiving valuable support from his customer base at a tough time for sectors like hospitality and retail.

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Virgin StartUp, which provides support to people founding and scaling up their own businesses and has in the past helped Black Milk and a number of other Manchester entrepreneurs, suggested its research indicates as many as three quarters of Brits could have made a conscious effort to ‘shop small’ this year and support local firms in the festive period.

Shoppers in Manchester city centre. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty ImagesShoppers in Manchester city centre. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images
Shoppers in Manchester city centre. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images | AFP via Getty Images

Some of the most common festive items to buy from smaller shops included Christmas cards, wrapping paper, chocolates, turkeys and trees.

Mancunians gave reasons for shopping local including a desire to give back to the local community, a feeling of responsibility for the success of small businesses around Christmas time, an idea that small and local businesses offer more originality, choice and variety and a keenness to help keep their high streets alive.

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