Their survival relies on our collective action…
Use it or lose it. It’s a stark warning issued by Mark Wilsmore, the owner of Ace Café on London’s North Circular road, which has been a popular hangout for rockers, bikers and petrolheads since 1938, but it’s a timely clarion call to support the small businesses, and the entrepreneur enthusiasts who set them up and take them on, at the heart of our community. The burden of the pandemic and now soaring energy bills threatens their survival and I fear that without help, some, perhaps many of them, will be forced to shut down over the winter, reduce their operating hours or close completely because they won’t be able to trade profitably.
'It is no secret, and it will not be a surprise, that with continuous cost increases for food, drink and all manner of other various non-consumable items, my co-directors and I have a serious and ongoing challenge on our hands to make the business balance,’ explains Mark, who resurrected the capital’s most iconic and historic automotive meeting place more than two decades ago. ‘The major challenge is the unknown as without certainty a business is not able to manage and plan ahead.’
In October, the government intervened with the Energy Bill Relief Scheme, offering eligible businesses a discount on gas and electricity unit prices until March 31, 2023, when the strategy will be reviewed. Time will tell if it will be adequate enough to support the most vulnerable businesses, but I’m sceptical, Covid has left small-scale and independent enterprises with depleted reserves, and so without our footfall, any efforts to safeguard them won’t go far enough.
Not all doom and gloom
As the cost-of-living crisis worsens, we are all having to find ways to tackle the increasing financial pressures that are being created, and that includes reducing our spend on luxuries such as going out and eating out, but an emotional outpouring such as this won’t keep the doors of our favourite meeting places open this winter. We need to show them our money, if, and as much we can.
‘Places like the Ace play a pivotal role in our lives’
Places such as the Ace, Gilks' Garage Café, Caffeine & Machine and The Motorist have a pivotal role in our lives, and while I’m not suggesting that any of those that have been namechecked here are anywhere near the brink of collapse or closure, I’d urge you to invest any spare pounds you may have into the places you love during the coming months. Collectively, a little from each of us, will help the automotive economy, and as Mark reminded me during a visit to the Ace on my birthday in the summer (made memorable, not least, by his rendition of Mike Sarne’s Just for Kicks) losing precious iconic venues would be detrimental for generations to come.
The spirit and motivation remain
‘At the Ace we welcome all who share our passion, based upon the rich traditions of motorcycles, cars and rock n’ roll,' says Mark. ‘Although the music and the machines may have changed over the years, our spirit and motivation remain the same. I won’t be here forever but what I hope is the case, and endeavour to ensure, is that the Ace continues to be a place where people can come together. Just as bikers have done in the past, youngsters on electric scooters whizz here to show off their latest set of wheels, so it seems to me the need for places like the Ace will always be there. So, with privilege and pride, I invite you all to be part of it, set the wheels in motion, and I’ll see you there. ’