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Clothes encounters of the generous kind

Loyal customers bring in laundry that doesn’t need cleaning to support business

26 March, 2021 — By Calum Fraser

Puneet Sharma: ‘What is keeping us going is the fact people find something to bring to us… It’s a beautiful gesture’

BEFORE Covid-19, the dry cleaners in a popular Chapel Market laundrette whirled loudly as dozens of City suits were turned around every day.

Now the machines in Leonards mostly sit quiet, except for the weekly batch of funeral suits.

For shop owner Puneet Sharma it has been a devastating year but moments of generosity from his ­loyal customers have given him hope.

The father-of-two said: “What is keeping us going is the fact people find something to bring to us. Even though I know that they know that they don’t necessarily need it cleaned. They are just doing it to support us, which is a beautiful gesture.”

The shop’s trade has fallen by about 70 per cent in the past year, yet Mr Sharma has made an effort to keep the doors open every day he can.

He said: “The phones were diverted to my mobile so if anyone needed anything I could be contacted. Usually it would be someone saying they had a funeral so they needed it done by a certain time. Honestly, funeral suits have been the only ones people need to be cleaned. December and January, that was the worst. There’s less now thank God.”

Tuesday marked a year since the first national lockdown was announced by prime minister Boris Johnson.

Islington Council has planted flowers across the borough in memory of the 356 residents who have died from the virus.

Mr Sharma said: “I have learnt in this last year about how important relationships are, how important life is and how important it is to balance work with your family life. I lost my father-in-law to Covid-19.”

Bhupat Gandhi, 69, died last month after suffering from the virus for just over five weeks.

Mr Puneet said: “He was just getting ready to enjoy retirement life with my mother-in-law, he was a fit man who did yoga every day. He has three daughters and two grandchildren, then Covid came and now he’s gone.

“I have been married to my wife for 18 years now, and I’ve never had a bad word with him. He was an absolute star.”

Mr Sharma’s father Shiva bought Leonards in 1991 and the family were hoping to celebrate 30 years of running the shop this year.

Mr Sharma spent part of his childhood living above the shop as his father toiled away downstairs, but after Shiva suffered a heart attack in 2005 his son took over.

Mr Sharma said: “I believe we do have the experience and the backing to ride this out. Once all the government help like furlough and the grants stop then we will lose businesses.

“I worry it could be a nail in the coffin for some of the shops here in Chapel Market, but the reaction we have had from our customers this year has given me hope.”

The 46-year-old added: “The amount of cakes, sweets and crisps I have received is phenomenal. I can be the only person some people will see for days. The fact we know their names and ask them how they are seems to make such a difference. It’s a beautiful thing.”


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