Behind the colourful shopfronts in England's Lane, a picture-postcard street near north London's Primrose Hill, business owners are experiencing mixed fortunes as a result of the pandemic lockdown. While window displays stay empty and shutters are drawn, including at The Washington pub, certain shops are benefitting as customers avoid big queues elsewhere and seek out items that are hard to find at major retailers. The newsagent and stationery store are enjoying fresh custom from people working remotely and home-schooling their children. The street's bike shop has meanwhile struggled to keep up with demand. "It's madness right now, everyone is cycling," Michael Falkowski, co-owner of the Impressed store, tells AFP as he busily fixes a bike. The Grain bakery has expanded its offering, transforming itself into a mini grocer by replacing tables for customers with shelves. Owner Kristin Labrague, who has temporarily laid off two of her workers, told AFP that while "it's a bit frightening to take public transport... we wanted to stay open and feed the community". Across the street, the Chamomile cafe has shut. Irit Reed, who runs the eatery with husband David, says "the decision to close was based on the safety of our staff, our customers". Ordinarily the cafe would have people waiting patiently for a table and brunch, but it now has a notice attached to its pale blue exterior with a message asking for help. "Like many other small businesses and industries who have been required to close, we have been hit pretty hard," it reads. "If anyone is able to donate to help us and our team through this next challenging period, we would be eternally grateful. "In return we will be offering a free hot drink or discount once through this crisis," the message adds. - Lack of control - Irit speaks of the "shock" she has felt. "We've worked hard all our lives, all of a sudden not being able to work is devastating." UK retail sales dived by a record 18.1 percent in April with the country in coronavirus lockdown. But most shops will soon be allowed to reopen, as Britain -- with the world's second-highest death toll in the coronavirus outbreak -- took its biggest step out of lockdown on Monday. Outdoor markets and car showrooms reopened as businesses seek to lure back customers and recoup losses suffered since Britain effectively shut down on March 23. In England's Lane, the Visage hair salon must wait a while longer to reopen, along with pubs, restaurants and gyms throughout Britain. Without state funding "I don't know what we would have done", says co-owner Estella Cicek, referring to government measures to pay workers' wages and delay payment of taxes during the lockdown. Irit is meanwhile upbeat about the future. "The cafe will reopen no question," she insists.
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