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'Buzz in the air' as Shropshire shops prepare to reopen

By Dominic Robertson | Bridgnorth | Business | Published:

Plans to reopen retail next month could save the high street and stop scores of shops being closed for good, according to a Shropshire business owner.

Shrewsbury's shopping centres will be looking for some stores to reopen from June 15

Independent shops, markets, car showrooms and shopping centres across the county are working on plans to reopen after the Government gave the green light.

Hundreds of businesses across Shropshire have been shut since the Government closed all but essential retail on March 23.

Now car showrooms and open air markets will be permitted to open from June 1, with fashion stores, betting and charity shops all allowed to welcome back customers from June 15.

Gift shops in museums, retail spaces in theatres, libraries, heritage sites and tourism sites will also be allowed to open – paving the way for visitors to return to tourist hotspots.

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Stacey Hill, who has run the Oberon boutique on Wyle Cop in Shrewsbury for 35 years, said business owners and customers were excited about the prospect of shops reopening.

She added that she would "absolutely definitely" be opening on June 15, and had even been ready for June 1.

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She said: "I am very much looking forward to it. It is going to be a different experience, we are going to have to make sure everything is done with social distancing in mind and only let a certain amount of people in the shop at any one time."

She added: "People are ready for reopening now. All the retailers around me are all in the shops getting things ready. There is a buzz in the air.

"People will be ready and customers are definitely ready."

She said the reopening was vital for businesses which have been starved of customers.

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She said: "It is probably the latest possible time they could reopen to totally make sure the high street has been protected."

Shrewsbury's Wyle Cop during lockdown

Shropshire Council is busy planning a 'movement system' to allow shoppers to safely move around Shrewsbury while maintaining social distance.

Stephanie Mansell Jones, business liaison at Shrewsbury's Business Improvement District (BID), said shops were looking forward to being able to reopen, but that safety would be the priority.

She said: "I think there is excitement and they are not sure how many people will be coming in. It is whether people feel safe and that is our primary focus.

"I think there was probably a bit of disappointment when they were working towards a June 1 date for it to go to the 15th, but on the plus side it has given them more time to prepare."

In Telford one of the county's most popular shopping destinations, Telford Shopping Centre is also gearing up for June 15.

Centre manager Glyn Morrow said planning was well in-hand for stores to reopen.

He said: "Our preparations for the reopening of non-essential retail from June 15 are well underway.

"We are working closely with all our retail and leisure operators to ensure that our customers can return with confidence to Telford Centre.

"Shopping safely, providing social distancing guidance and ensuring our centre is Covid-secure is an essential part of the careful but deliberate steps that are being taken to rebuild our local economy and we are will be asking all our customers to play their part.

Telford Shopping Centre prior to the pandemic

"Our success is dependent on our customers clearly following the guidance to ensure we get back to business as usual as quickly and safely as possible."

Telford & Wrekin Council leader Shaun Davies said the authority would also be working with the borough's high streets to arrange signs and navigation to allow business to safely reopen.

Shrewsbury's Shropshire Council-owned shopping centres, Pride Hill and the Darwin Centre, are also preparing for stores to reopen on June 15.

Kevin Lockwood, Shrewsbury shopping centres manager, said: “In line with the latest Government advice we’re planning to re-open the shopping centres fully on June 15.

"We’re looking forward to welcoming customers and our retailers back to the centres, however the health and safety of our tenants, staff and visitors will be our top priority.

“In the coming days we’ll be preparing for this by producing and displaying new signage, installing hand sanitisers, working with tenants on queue management and implementation of the guidelines and monitoring customer numbers throughout the centres.

"There will also be controls in place to monitor customer numbers in the toilet facilities in Pride Hill, to comply with the guidelines as much as possible.

“A small number of essential shops are currently open in the shopping centres, and in recent days we’ve been in contact with all our tenants to inform them of the Government guidelines which should be adhered to before they open and asked them how they are going to do this. We need to be satisfied that everyone is doing as much as possible to reduce the risk of passing on the virus.

“We hope to announce details of which tenants will be open and when in the coming days.”

Oswestry before the lockdown

A spokesman for Oswestry Business Improvement District said: “We welcome the decision to begin the reopening of the high street.

"Oswestry BID is working with Oswestry Town Council, Shropshire Council and local businesses to help these retailers reopen safely. We want to encourage people to come back to town as quickly as restrictions allow and help them feel safe and welcome.

"We expect the majority of our retailers to be able to open, as those that were able to have already found ways to safely adapt their business through this period and are eager to welcome back shoppers.

"We are sure that the Oswestry business community will continue to show its strength in depth throughout this challenge and the BID team will keep doing everything we can to support them to adjust to this new normal.”

Full list released of retailers that are able to open

A full list of retailers that can reopen under new guidelines has been released, with fashion stores, betting shops and charity stores all allowed to welcome back customers from June 15, it said.

Ministers were keen to stress the date could change if reductions in coronavirus infections fail to meet expectations and the experience will be very different.

Gift shops in museums, retail spaces in theatres, libraries, heritage sites and tourism sites will also be allowed to open, paving the way for visitors to return to tourist hotspots.

Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove said shoppers would need to “exercise restraint” by not trying on clothing and testing goods ahead of purchase.

He said: “It’s also the case that we need to ensure that some of the shopping habits people may have grown used to in the pre-Covid days are habits that we exercise a degree of restraint on.

“So when it comes to touching and testing goods, when it comes to trying on clothing, when it comes to trying make-up and so on, that all of us exercise restraint in not doing that and recognising that as these stores reopen, it is a new normal, but it will allow us to ensure there are a wider range of goods and will also ensure the economy can return to a new normal, that is absolutely vital for people’s jobs.”

The full list that can be open from June 15 includes some that are already allowed to be open. But it widens the opportunities greatly for retailers who are currently forced to shut up shop.

Essential

The list includes food retailers, fashion shops, charity shops, betting shops and arcades, tailors, dress fitters and fashion designers, car dealerships, auction houses and antique stores. Retail art galleries will be able to open, along with photography studios, gift shops and retail spaces in theatres, museums, libraries, heritage sites and tourism sites.

Mobile phone stores, indoor and outdoor markets and craft fairs are also on the list. The guidance also applies to those currently open, including banks, post offices and other money businesses, it added.

On March 23, the Government said that only retailers deemed “essential” – which included supermarkets and grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, hardware stores, petrol stations, vets and pet stores, food markets and bike shops – could remain open.

Days after the original announcement, it confirmed that off-licences and other licensed shops selling alcohol, including those in breweries, could stay open.

Restaurants, pubs and cafes were all forced to shut their doors to customers as part of the lockdown, but remained able to serve takeaway food to customers in line with social distancing measures and deliver takeaways. And on May 10 in his address to the nation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he hoped to begin a phased reopening of shops by June 1 at the earliest. Some of the hospitality industry could reopen from July 1, he added.

More recently, garden centres and estate agents were both given the go-ahead to reopen on May 13. Before reopening, bosses must consider who is essential to be on the premises, plan for the minimum number of people needed on site and keep an awareness of the mental and physical wellbeing of staff.

Clinically vulnerable workers can return to work, with the Government saying they “should be offered the option of the safest available on-site roles, enabling them to stay 2m away from others”, if working from home is not an option. Unions have been calling for changes to protect staff, but the PM has said businesses should use “common sense”.

Fishmonger is back on market

Familiar favourites have returned to a town’s market after stock levels meant they were absent from the usual line-up.

Montgomery Market customers have been safely using the market to stock-up on essentials during the pandemic, but for some sellers, it hasn’t been possible to get stock and so they took a few weeks’ break.

Customers were pleased to see the return of the fishmonger, Simon Phillips, back in Broad Street following a few weeks’ absence. It is his 37th year of being a regular fixture at Montgomery’s Charter Market, having taken on the running of the family fish stall from his father.

Simon returned fully stocked and said it was nice to be back. “I’m glad to be back in Montgomery,”he said. “Clearly people have missed eating fish from the stall.

“The queue was more than halfway along Broad Street at times, and I was sold out before lunchtime.” Simon can also provide advice and suggestions on how to cook the different fish, as well as preparing fish ready for cooking if required.

Weekly food and drink stalls at Montgomery’s Thursday market include fruit and veg; cheese, milk and fresh made deli items; local meats; sweet and savoury baked goods; free range eggs and honey.

Local alcoholic beverages are now stocked at The Castle Kitchen, which is open as a deli with freshly baked items for collection. The market enables people to maintain their safe distances, or to collect orders.

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