Criminal damage: How crime is affecting our city’s independent business owners

Following break-ins, vandalism, and knife-crime in the capital, many independent shopkeepers are becoming increasingly worried about their vulnerability to crime

A street in Cardiff, where independent businesses are becoming more concerned about crime.
How safe are our streets for Cardiff’s independent businesses? Photo Credit: Taylor Floyd Mews on Unsplash

Owning an independent business is not a job for the fainthearted. From managing finances to customer service, small business owners face many challenges every day. Crime, however, is one issue out of the control of business owners, but one which the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) warns has a “devastating” impact on them .

The financial costs of crimes such as break-ins and vandalism “prevent small businesses from achieving their potential and growing,” said Rob Basini, development manager at FSB South Wales. He also stressed how crime can put shopkeepers and their staff at physical risk, and how this (alongside crime’s financial effects) can seriously affect independent business owners’ mental health.

Incidents can quickly escalate, and often have a profound and lasting impact on victims

In November 2021, Jojo Maman Bebe Cardiff‘s regional store manager Sophie Iles and the community of independent business owners who inhabit the Royal Arcade were left shaken after a fight and alleged stabbing occurred within the arcade one morning. 

Because Sophie’s customers are mostly pregnant women and individuals with young children, incidents like November’s are particularly worrying for her business. “My main concern now is how it could affect our trade,” the 30-year-old said, “People may be more hesitant to come in.”

How is crime affecting Cardiff’s independent businesses?

An attack on the heart of Cardiff
Watch Melissa’s full video above. Credit: Melissa Boothman, the Secret Garden Cardiff Instagram

Another issue affecting Cardiff businesses is the threat posed by vandalism.

On the morning of 10 September 2021, Cardiff Council and South Wales Police received reports of “significant criminal damage” to Bute Park. Vandals had cut down 50 trees, damaged drains and bins, and attacked properties within the park.

Melissa Boothman, owner of the Secret Garden cafe in Bute Park, called September’s incident “an attack on the heart of Cardiff” in a video which she posted on the cafe’s Instagram.

In the video, Melissa explained that the “huge”, “nasty” and “destructive” incident during which her cafe’s signs, trees and parasols were targeted by vandals, had left her and others connected to the park distressed.

Melissa’s plea in the video for anyone who had any potential information about the vandalism to come forward and speak to the police echoes the words of South Wales Police’s local policing Inspector Darren Grady when asked to comment about protecting independent businesses from similar incidents.

“Incidents of antisocial behaviour can quickly escalate, and often have a profound and lasting impact on those who are victims,” he said. 

“Too often we are seeing incidents appear on social media that have not been reported. We ask that the community work with us, and if you see or experience any antisocial behaviour, please report it to us.”

Inspector Grady stressed that in addition to the 101 telephone service, incidents can be reported to the police via email, private messages on Facebook or Twitter, or through this link.

In today’s society, nobody is safe

Tony Frawley, director of Scaramantica pizzeria on Penylan Road, says his main concern is his staff being attacked while travelling to and from the business. “In today’s society, nobody is safe,” Tony said.

In order to increase his own confidence, the 59-year-old attends a self-defence class and has encouraged his staff to participate as well. “You have to take these measures,” he said seriously, “because the other alternative is you get stabbed, or beaten.”

Maternity store manager Sophie Iles, left, and pizzeria director Tony Frawley, right, have both become increasingly concerned about crime in their businesses’ areas. Photo Credit: Hannah Watkin

In May this year, Anatoni’s, a pizzeria on Wellfield Road which Tony previously directed, was broken into in one of several break-ins on the road this summer. Thinking about the effect these incidents had on independent business owners in the area, Tony said, “It puts people on edge. You have to be so vigilant, all the time.”

Tony made it clear that the community remains shaken from what appears to them to be an increasing problem. However, recent crime statistics released by the Office for National Statistics suggest that crime was actually falling in South Wales in the time leading up to the break-ins on Wellfield Road.

From June 2020-June 2021, South Wales Police recorded 617 fewer non-residential burglaries than in the previous year, and 596 fewer cases of criminal damage and arson. The force saw a five percent decrease in the total number of crimes they recorded over the same comparative period.

However, what these figures don’t show is whether the severity of crimes is increasing.

Timeline of some recent crime in Cardiff

  • 6 and 7 June: St Andrew’s Coffee Court, Wellfield Road, broken into and vandalised
  • 20 June: Anatoni’s Pizzeria, Wellfield Road, broken into
  • 10 September: Vandals attack Bute Park, including the Secret Garden cafe
  • 5 November: Alleged stabbing occurs on St Mary Street near Cardiff Market
  • 10 November: Fight and alleged stabbing occurs in the Royal Arcade

Determined to make a community stand against the vandalism which hit Bute Park, Melissa and others connected to the park went on to organise a Reclaim Bute Park community walk. She also set up a Just Giving page which has so far raised over £4,000 for restoration work at the park.

The defiance and continued positivity which independent business owners such as Melissa and Tony have shown in response to the incidents which have affected their businesses suggests Cardiff’s shopkeepers remain strong despite their increasing concerns about crime in the capital.

However, Rob explained that because of the pandemic, it appears as if solving the problem of small business crime has had to “go on the back burner” for a lot of authorities. The FSB believes a lot more should be done by the UK government and regional police forces to tackle the problem of small business crime in the future.

For now, the FSB offers financial support for members who are affected by cybercrime and also offers counselling to deal with the effects all kinds of crime can have on business owners’ mental health. The people of Cardiff can support our independent business owners by continuing to shop local, and by reporting crimes to South Wales Police.