It only takes a short stroll down Harbour Road for the reality of the economic fall-out of the Covid-19 lockdown regulations to hit home. And yet, despite the galleries, eateries and bars that remain shut, the Hermanus CBD is also filled with businesses that are rising to the challenge and reinventing themselves to adapt to the new circumstances we all face.
One of the earliest to close their doors, Lembu Gallery can now be found just around the corner in Warrington Place (also known as ‘Art Alley’), where owners Ian Macdonald and Ed Bredenkamp have set up their new gallery in what used to be their fabric-printing studio. With no tourists around, they have discontinued this line of their business, which was so popular with visitors, but in their new home you will still find the same superior quality South African-made products such as bead art, glassware, ceramics, jewellery and African artefacts, as well as fine art and photography.
Ed and Ian are no strangers to hardship. Both hail from Zimbabwe, where they ran a safari lodge in the Matobo Hills and founded their fabric-printing business, Lembu (the Ndebele word for fabric). When the country started unravelling and the lodge was burned to the ground, they lost everything and had to flee, eventually making their way to Hermanus in 2004. “What we found in Hermanus is a caring community – and that’s when we knew we had finally reached The Promised Land,” Ed told me a few years ago.
They may have arrived with nothing, but Ed and Ian immediately started rebuilding their fabric printing business, and Ed also started painting again, still focusing on the wildlife that had been such a big part of his life. They opened their first Lembu Gallery in Main Road in 2010 and a few years later they moved to Harbour Road. In 2016, they opened a second gallery in Warrington Place, Forty x 40. Due to the lockdown, however, they had to make the heart-wrenching decision to close both galleries in May.
Having taken their gallery online (lembuonline.com), Ed and Ian are now also happily settled into their new gallery. “We have done our best to recreate the old Lembu that so many of our loyal clients knew and loved, and now look forward to welcoming them to the new Lembu,” says Ian. “The support from locals has been overwhelming and we’ve also seen many new faces in the gallery,” adds Ed with a smile, while reassuring customers that “all Cocid-19 protocols are in place – for your safety and ours”.
Another business in Harbour Road that is now boarded up is Hemingways Bookshop, which had been in the same premises for 25 years before owners, Beth and Noel Hunt, relocated last week to Victoria Square. “This lockdown has taught us a lot,” says Beth from their new shop opposite The Eatery, which she says has given them a new lease on life. “We were like addicts in need of rehab,” she laughs. “We had become too complacent, too stuck in our comfort zone.”
They were loath to leave Harbour Road, Beth confesses, but with the hard lockdown and the lack of tourists, their income plummeted and they could no longer afford the rent. When they saw the premises on Victoria Square (where the Flower Scene was before), she says it “beamed at us” – and their neighbours could not have been friendlier or more helpful. The enclosed stoep of this renovated fisherman’s cottage is where Noel and Beth now spend most of their time, welcoming their customers and watching the locals come and go along the pedestrianised alley. “Having The Eatery on our doorstep and great coffee on tap is an added bonus,” they both agree.
Getting the new shop ready, packing up and moving after so many years was emotional, stressful and exhausting, but both Beth and Noel seem re-energised despite the upheaval. “We have been through so much, first when the mall was built, then the drought and the riots – and now Coronavirus,” says Noel. “But this feels like a new beginning for us. And we have to all remember that you can’t live while desperately trying not to die. The show must go on.”
While visiting Hemingways last week, it was interesting to see that the florist, Lilly Rose, has also come up with a solution by joining forces with The Eatery. Lilly Rose’s owner, Susan Roberts had been working at the Flower Scene when it closed down and as soon as restaurants were given the green light to do deliveries, she jumped in to help The Eatery’s owner, Rebecca Matthysen, in the kitchen. The pair then came up with the idea of Susan setting up shop in the one half of the Eatery’s premises, which would enable them both to continue trading while sharing rent. And thus Lilly Rose was born, with both businesses now happily co-trading under one roof.
This simple solution has also been applied by Tulip Coffee Bar, where several businesses have joined to form the High Street Market. And now Lize van der Walt, whose gallery shared The Barefoot Cook’s premises in Aberdeen Street (which owner, Anton Verhoogt, closed a few months ago), has also teamed up with two other businesses – artist Jeandré Marinier and Lifestyle Framing Studio.
Lize, Jeandré, who also teaches at the Hermanus Visual Art & Design Centre, and Lifestyle Framing Studio owners, Marie and Johan Vorster and their son, Wesley, all feel that operating from the same premises has several benefits, of which the most obvious is sharing overheads. But the two artists have also been inspired by Lifestyle Framing Studio to branch out in more commercially viable ways, by having their artworks printed onto fabric such as cushions, bags or T-shirts, and on surfaces such as mugs, coasters, trays or calendars.
“This has opened up a whole world of new possibilities for us,” says Lize enthusiastically. “We are amazed at everything Lifestyle Studio can do – from framing to designing, printing and embroidery. Together we are establishing a new creative hub in town.”
These courageous stories of innovation and perseverance are typical of the entrepreneurial spirit of Hermanus. And as Noel says, the business community in the CBD has already been through so much; yet it has proven time and again that obstacles can be overcome.