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Mask rules not hitting big Black Country shops but independents need support

By Jordan Reynolds | Business | Published:

Footfall has continued to recover in the region’s major shopping centres, despite new coronavirus face mask rules being brought in – but there were concerns from some smaller firms.

For just over two weeks wearing a face covering has been compulsory while in shopping centres, banks, takeaways, sandwich shops and supermarkets.

Both Merry Hill in Brierley Hill and New Square, West Bromwich, shopping centres have reported an increase in footfall as customers begin to brave the shops again.

Rachael Jackson, general manager at intu Merry Hill said: “Here we’ve seen our visitors doing their part in helping to control the virus by following these official guidelines, coming to the centre well prepared with coverings. Footfall continues to improve as more visitors return.”

Jackie Clay, centre manager at New Square, added: “As the centre has continued to reopen stores and restaurants, we’ve seen a gradual and consistent increase in footfall as customers get used to the new rules, including wearing a face mask.

“We’re finding that most people are wearing masks voluntarily and shoppers seem to be increasingly relaxed.”

But Halesowen BID has reported mixed reactions from smaller businesses, with a steady increase for some but a drop for others.

Vicky Rogers, Halesowen BID town manager, said: “The findings from speaking with traders was very mixed, the likes of Wilko’s has seen an increase in footfall since the regulations were enforced on July 24 but smaller independent wool shop Withit Witch has said her regular customers were reluctant to come out if they were made to wear masks so she is therefore continuing to deliver to certain customers.

“Dancers Suit Hire stated the new legislation has not affected their trade, they have witnessed a steady flow of customers since reopening. This is increasing as the need for school uniform becomes greater as we approach September and children returning to school.

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“But Neil Fox at Asda states it has massively impacted negatively on trade to the town’s major supermarket based in the Cornbow Shopping Centre. They have seen a huge downturn since the introduction of masks. It has undone all the good work and positivity [for the stores showing negative effects] from how we initially managed lockdown.

Some more vulnerable shoppers have said they feel more confident going into businesses if others have to wear masks.

Ms Rogers added: “Having spoken to several shoppers about this topic, many that have shielded throughout lockdown feel more confident to come into the town centre and public places if they and others are wearing masks.

“Halesowen BID have reusable or washable masks available from the BID office, should anyone feel concerned that they have come to town without one. We are happy to support our shoppers to continue about their visit to town safely.

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“As Halesowen works to become an inclusive town centre we have applied for funding to allow us to purchase a supply of lip-reading friendly masks too.”

Some independent traders across the region have reported a drop in sales in the last two weeks.

David Griffiths, a trader for 30 years at West Bromwich’s indoor market selling pet foods, said: “The number of people using the market has dropped massively. My takings have fallen by at least 30 per cent, and this after months of the market being closed during the lockdown.”

Mr Griffiths said customers are buying only what they need. He added: “When they do come they just purchase the items they want and they leave the market straight away.

“They are not stopping to browse and buy extra items, and that not only affects my business but other traders as well.”

Jordan Reynolds

By Jordan Reynolds
Reporter - @jreynolds_star

Senior reporter at the Express & Star.

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