Shops reopen: Customers return to Shropshire's retail districts in new normal
Traders flung open their doors and customers returned to Shropshire's shopping districts today as people began to get used to the new normal.
Some areas welcomed shoppers back in their droves, while others saw a steadier return to business as non-essential stores opened back up for the first time since the coronavirus lockdown.
Business owners who have been carrying financial worries since the pandemic forced them to shut up shop were hoping the sun and lockdown fever would lure people out in big numbers to spend their cash.
Cones and markings were put up in town centres to safely direct traffic and pedestrians so people could shop at a distance from one another, and hand sanitiser stations were aplenty.
In Shrewsbury, Meole Brace Retail Park had a busy morning, but things were a bit more gradual in the town centre. Several shoppers seemed to find distancing tricky on Pride Hill early on, before an initial rush settled down.
Independent traders in Wyle Cop spruced up their window displays and made a few last minute special touches to try to tempt shoppers back in. The new one-way system which is in force from 11am-6pm daily caused traffic to snarl up when motorists pulled over.
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Few stores were overwhelmed by queues, and it seems getting the town centre economy bustling again may be a more gradual process as people rebuild their confidence to go out and about.
But traders largely remain optimistic, and believe once people get used to the new measures and into the swing of things, the town will be busy once again.
Neil Robinson from Second Chapter Books in The Parade said: "I've not been very busy this morning. I think it's a lot for people to get their heads round. I did have one of my regulars waiting before we opened.
"I do think people are going to be rather apprehensive about coming out, so I don't know how it will go.
"I'm treating this as if I were opening a new shop and starting all over again. Let's just see how it goes.
Sibo Nkala, from neighbouring tailoring shop Nimble Thimble, has also been preparing for the new normal.
She said: "I'm looking forward to seeing people again. I've had a lot of messages and other things to catch up on. I've ordered in face visors and put hand sanitiser in place.
"It's been quiet so far but I'm hoping it will pick up. We need to start making money again. I don't know how it's going to go but I hope people come out and support."
Father and daughter Peter Harries and Selena Jackson went into town with Selena's four-month-old daughter Maia. It was one of the first times they had got together since lockdown.
They admitted being reluctant to go into shops due to difficulty with social distancing.
Selena said: "We've actually just come into town for a coffee. I'm not going to be doing any non-essential shopping just yet. I've got no reason to go in a shop and I don't want to take any chances with a baby."
Peter said: "Meeting family is important to us so that's why we're here. I think people are struggling to keep their distance."
But Katie Harrison and Madeleine Hughes were straight out to hit the shops in the morning. They took the opportunity to raid Primark and H&M for some summer goodies.
Katie said: "It is strange to be shopping again, but I think it has played out quite well. I needed new clothes for the summer. It's been a long time since we've been able to go shopping."
Madeleine added: "It has been quite easy to stay apart from people. It's been nice to be able to come out."
At Telford town centre, things seemed almost back to normal, with vehicles packed into newly-reopened car parks and hundreds of people browsing through the town centre's shopping area.
The biggest queues were outside banks, JD Sports, Sports Direct, and Primark. Dozens of people stood waiting with two metres between each shopper.
Some shops remained closed, including Superdry, River Island and Monsoon.
Waterstones introduced a policy of only allowing 10 shoppers in at a time.
The queue inside Primark to pay was reportedly the worst of all, with waits of about an hour reported.
Partners Angela Merton and Derek Green came to Telford's town centre to investigate the shopping situation.
Angela, who works at Wilko in the town centre, had booked two weeks off work and the couple would have been on holiday in north Wales if not for the lockdown.
"We can't go anywhere else. We came to have a look," she said.
"We did go to Primark, the queue was right to the back of the store.
"It is all organised well, I like the one-way. It's very clean."
The Dawley couple said they would wait until later in the week to make another trip in the hopes of beating the queues.
Angela said: "It's nice to see a bit of normality. It's not 100 per cent but it is a little bit like normal.
"It's amazing what you take for granted."
Married couple Phil Carpenter and Karen Cardwell visited from Wolverhampton as they did every weekend before the lockdown – it was the first time they had seen their Telford friends in months.
Phil thought that with the toilets in the shopping centre remaining closed, some people with medical conditions may stay away.
They said that the social distancing measures were being observed much better in Telford than in Wolverhampton's shopping centres, and praised the organisation of the centre managers.
"They have really thought about it," said Karen.
In Ludlow, shops were getting their first visitors since lockdown began, although it was the independents who had reopened while a number of the town's national stores remained closed.
Monika Curry, who runs the Bodenhams clothes shop with her husband, said they had been pleased to welcome customers after weeks of being shut to the public.
She said: "We opened this morning and so far so good. We have been quite busy, a lot of our regular customers, some who are too nervous to come out, rang and ordered over the telephone and we have had a few in the shop as well."
Mrs Curry said she had been pleasantly surprised by the number of people coming out to shop, and hoped it carries on building as people get more used to the new surroundings.
She said: "I would like it to be this busy every day! We will see what it is like in a few days. It could be people have been desperate to get out and get a few things."
Glyn Price, who runs Frank Lloyd and Leaf, men's and women's clothes shops, said it had been quiet so far.
He said: "It has been flat. You would not notice any difference in Ludlow."
Mr Price said that the town's reliance on visitors and tourists could mean that trade will only fully pick up once the hospitality industry reopens.
In Oswestry popular book shop Booka reopens is set to reopen on Tuesday, but without its cafe.
Co-owner Carrie Morris said they had received a lot of support from loyal customers ahead of the reopening.
She said: "We have had lovely lovely messages from people so everyone seems to be excited over opening again and we just hope that results in footfall."
Additional reporting by Dominic Robertson and Rob Smith