London 2012

Big competition for small businesses around Olympic Park

Stephen Beard Jul 20, 2012
London 2012

Big competition for small businesses around Olympic Park

Stephen Beard Jul 20, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: When the Olympics start next week in London, there will of course be winners and losers among the athletes. There will also be, outside Olympic Park in the East End of London, no small competition among businesses.

Marketplace’s Stephen Beard reports.

Stephen Beard: Within a week, several billion people will be watching this once-neglected part of London on TV. Hundreds of thousands will come in person.

But Michael Spinks, a local businessman, won’t be cheering when the greatest show on earth arrives in town.

Michael Spinks: I prefer to call it a tsunami. Because very shortly, hundreds of thousands, millions of people are going to swamp this area. It is a tsunami and it could sweep us away.

From this depot just outside the Olympic Park, Michael runs a small food distribution company. With road closures and traffic restrictions, he’ll struggle during the Games.

Spinks: We’re going to find it really difficult to get vehicles in because they’re only allowed to deliver between midnight and six a.m. So we feel it may cripple us.
Beard: You think this will damage you permanently?
Spinks: If I lose the best of our customers who spend the most because we’ve let them down at a particularly crucial time, then we are crippled. It might shut us down.

Fifty local companies like his are suing the London Olympic authorities. Kevin Coutts runs a small auto repair shop not far from the Olympic Park. He says his business has already been badly dented by the Games.

Kevin Coutts: They took away from us a major road, and basically that was the main way of people getting to us, our passing trade. I would say in passing trade, to what we used to get, it would be cut down by a half.

Kevin and the other affected business people have been pressing the London Olympic authorities for compensation — so far to no avail. The message seems to be: Just enjoy the Games!

Beard: You’re not excited and honored that the Olympics has come to your part of London?
Coutts: We should be. But how can we be at the costs of our businesses? Which is exactly what it could be. So what good is it to us? It’s doing no good to us. This has done nothing, apart from grief and heartache.

Lance Forman: Mayor of London, ladies and gentlemen, it gives me immense pleasure…

Not much sign of grief and heartache here, though. This was Lance Forman opening his new business on a river bank, less than a hundred yards from the Olympic Stadium. There’s a fish restaurant, an art gallery and a hospitality venue with a fake beach.

Forman: It’s all going to be beautifully decked out; we’re shipping in about 60 palm trees, we’re going to have our own beach volleyball. There’s going to be a cocktail bar.

Forman once bitterly opposed the London Olympics. His smoked salmon factory was located where the stadium now is — and he was evicted, along with 250 other manufacturing companies. He got compensation, then bought these new premises nearby. If he couldn’t beat the Olympics, he thought he’d cash in on them instead.

Forman: The Olympics is so enormous despite the fact that it’s only here for 17 days. You know, we must be able to capture some of that magic while it goes on. And that’s what we’ve set about to do since we moved here.

He has no time for other local companies still complaining about the Games.

Forman: Those are businesses that haven’t seized the opportunity. They’ve taken it as a negative rather than a positive. That’s just an approach to life. That’s how some people see change. We see change as an opportunity to do positive things.

But unlike Lance Forman, the 50 local companies that are suing the Olympic authorities haven’t received any compensation. And anyway, not everyone can set up a swanky new fish restaurant.

Freight company boss Mike Spinks.

Spinks: We’ve got here the one business that has done fantastically well out of the Olympic relocation. So Lance Forman, I salute you. You probably know you are the main, if only, winner out of this.

Not what the British government wants to hear. With the economy  in recession , it badly needs British business to win gold at the Olympics.

Outside the Olympic Park in East London, I’m Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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