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Shops reopening 'vital in battle to save Midlands towns'

By Jordan Reynolds | Wolverhampton | Business | Published:

The reopening of shops has been welcomed by West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, who said it was "vital" for town and city centres.

Social distancing markers in Broad Street, Birmingham. Pic: SnapperSK

But Mr Street said it needs to be done safely.

He spoke after the Prime Minister announced non-essential shops are set to reopen from June 15, and car showrooms and outdoor markets can invite customers from Monday.

Mr Street tweeted saying: "The reopening plan for shops is vital for our town and city centres but crucially this will have to be done safely.

"So some welcome Government support for our councils to help keep shoppers and employees safe."

Karen Woolley, development manager for Staffordshire and West Midlands Federation of Small Businesses, said she wants businesses open "as soon as possible".

She said: "It's an uncertain time for all businesses.

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"We've been championing businesses to keep going as much as they can but obviously we're in unprecedented times.

"This is good news, we want them back in business as soon as possible.

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"But there are going to have to be adjustments.

"Businesses with a big car park is one thing, but for some small high street businesses, people might not be able to queue as the next shop might be two metres away."

Bosses at Dudley's Merry Hill shopping centre have drawn up a number of social distancing measures to support businesses reopening.

Merry Hill during the lockdown

It includes placing limits on the number of people and cars allowed into the centre at a time, with some parking bays closed, and other measures including one-way systems, floor stickers and staff training to ensure visitors stay socially distanced.

Enhanced hygiene regimes that were introduced at the start of the outbreak will continue, with more deep cleaning of key areas and touch-points like escalators, toilets and keypads. Hand sanitation stands will also remain at entrances and other locations throughout the centre for visitors to use during their shopping trip, and intu Merry Hill staff will be given PPE.

Matthew Roberts, chief executive of intu, said: “Experts from across intu have formed a specialist taskforce who have considered everything we need to run intu Merry Hill and our others centres as safely as possible, with a series of central, common principles for the portfolio and individual plans for each centre.

“We know we cannot do this alone and everyone who visits our centres whether for work or to shop will play their part in keeping themselves and each other safe by following the official guidelines, and the instructions and safety information provided by our teams."

Richard Scharenguivel, centre manager at Wolverhampton's Mander Centre, said: "We are expecting more stores to open come June 15 and we are in contact with all our retailers in this regard.

"We will of course be following Government guidance regarding the safe operation of the centre.”

Victoria Street at one of the entrances of the Mander Centre

The owner of Concord Markets, Sedgley, has taken the time while it has been closed to revamp the market before it reopens on June 16.

Owner Shane Birch-Bastocks also said the market has lost about £100,000 while it has been closed.

He said: "Some of the traders won't be able to open, such as the nail salon and cafe, so at the moment we're seeing which can open.

"It's part of the town, it's a community market. We've been open 41 years and we've never closed, so we decided to give it a freshen up.

"We will have a new shop front, flooring and toilets."

One independent business owner is installing a sanitiser station ready for the "much-needed summer trade".

Mark Hodgkiss, owner of Mode Menswear in Tettenhall, said: "It's been very difficult as we don't have an internet site, but we have been selling gift vouchers on social media.

"We'll have a sanitiser station for customers with a big alcohol gel and disposable gloves and we will offer private appointments too."

Outdoor markets are set to reopen next week, with new restrictions in place.

Markets in Bilston, Wednesfield and Wolverhampton city centre opened on May 9, with restrictions in place and selling essential items only.

The Government announced this week that outdoor markets can reopen on June 1.

The market in the centre of Dudley, described as “the lifeblood of the town” will be reopening from Monday.

In Stone, the farmers’ market will move to Westbridge Park on June 6, under plans to return the event safely to the town. The market usually takes place in the town’s High Street on the first Saturday of the month.

Stafford Borough Council has ruled out a return to the High Street because of the difficulties in ensuring social distancing would be adhered to. The town's farmers’ market is set to go ahead the following week in Market Square.

Showrooms to meet guidelines

Car showrooms are being changed to comply with social distancing ahead of their reopening next week.

Motorpoint has showrooms in Oldbury and Birmingham, which will be opening to customers from June 1.

CEO of Motorpoint Mark Carpenter said: “We’re really looking forward to once again welcoming customers into our branches from June 1 onwards.

“Motorpoint has been successfully offering free home delivery and appointment-only contactless collection in branch for a number of weeks now but it’s great news that we will be able to fully re-open our doors at our Lichfield Road store in Birmingham and our Churchbridge store in Oldbury and give customers the option to also come into branch to choose their new car from Motorpoint.

“At the same time we’ve also been busy re-modelling our branches in preparation for June 1 in line with the latest social distancing guidelines from Public Health England.”

Co-op launches collect service

Central England Co-op is launching a new call and collect service for its members to provide help for those who need support with their shopping.

The Lichfield-based Co-operative Society, which has more than 240 food stores across 16 counties, created the new service as part of its ongoing efforts to provide access to food and vital essentials to people across the communities it trades in.

Members will call a dedicated number – 0800 050 1601 – and place their order, their local store will then pick and pack the order that day before having ready to be collected in the afternoon the day after.

The member or a nominated person will then visit the store and collect the shopping. Payment for the food and essentials will be taken over the phone from the retailer’s head office. Items available to order include everything from fresh food to cupboard essentials.

Debbie Robinson, Central England Co-op chief executive, said: “As a Co-operative Society, supporting our members is at the heart of what we do.”

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”.

Jordan Reynolds

By Jordan Reynolds
Reporter - @jreynolds_star

Senior reporter at the Express & Star.

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