'Shop local' plea as stores prepare for a 'new way of trading'
Traders today issued a rallying call urging people to 'shop local' as they prepare to reopen their doors for the first time in weeks.
Non-essential retail stores have been given the green light to begin opening their doors from Monday.
Business bosses across the region said it is now more vital to the future of the high street than ever before that people use their local shops.
Cherry Shine, Wolverhampton Business Improvement District (BID) director, said: “More than ever, our high streets need your support, we encourage everyone to shop local and support the high street and city centre.”
At shopping centres, visitor numbers will be restricted, and people are being encouraged to visit alone if possible with measures to help social distancing in place.
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A small number of essential shops in centres including those at intu Merry Hill, the Mander Centre and the Cornbow Shopping Centre, Halesowen, have remained open throughout the lockdown – but Monday will see phased returns of those previously deemed as ‘non-essential’.
Black Country Chamber of Commerce chief executive Corin Crane said: “Our high streets and shopping centres play far more of a place in our lives and in our communities than just places to shop.
They are places to meet, they are vibrant places, they make our communities feel like the places that they are and they reflect the communities around them.
“We don’t want to lose that. So it is a really, really important time for us to think long and hard about what is out there and wherever physically possible get out and support those.”
Wolverhampton record store owner Ian Davies said he is “itching” to reopen ahead of the latest coronavirus restrictions being eased.
The owner of Stay Loose Records, is among those looking forward to the return of customers next week.
He said: “I can’t wait to open up – I’m going to open three to four days a week and see how it goes – but everyone, including me, are itching to get back to the way things were.
“If we all follow Government guidelines we will be OK and that’s the way it’s got to be. I’ve done the measurements in the store and two people can be in the shop at any one time – one either side – and I can stand outside as people have a look.”
The Cornbow Centre in Halesowen has remained open throughout the crisis – with essential retailers including Asda and Poundland among those to stay open. But the centre has seen a drop in footfall – during the first week of lockdown they saw 44,000 people through their doors, compared to normal figures of around 180,000 a week.
Eve O'Connor, the centre manager, said it was important that people do not wait if there's no room in queues – and also encouraged people to shop alone if they can.
She said: "It has been a challenging time for the centre – but our priority has been people's safety. I believe people want to shop where they feel safe and a testament to the returning and increasing figures obviously people must feel safe as they are coming to shop at our centre.
"It's getting used to the new kind of normal and it's a learning curve for the customers, as well as us."
Stafford’s Guildhall Shopping Centre manager, George Demetriou, added: “It is absolutely important to get those customers back into our town centre. Stafford has plenty of open space in Market Square, plenty of car parking, so there’s nothing they should be afraid of. The market reopens on Tuesday too, so there’s a lot to come back for.”
Mr Demetriou moved to reassure shoppers that the centre will be safe for them to return to on Monday.
He said: "There's nothing for customers to be unsure about, we are trying to make it as comfortable as we can for everybody. There's clear signage, follow the one-way system – customers may not be able to browse as much as they used to previously, but there's still plenty of room to manoeuvre.
"Don't come at the busiest time, spread it out. If there is a queue, unfortunately you will have to go round again. That's the way it is nowadays."
Capacity limits will be strictly adhered to in shopping centres, while a number of measures have been adopted to keep customers and staff safe and to ensure social distancing measures are being followed. Hand sanitiser stations have been installed across centres, seating is being removed, one-way systems are being installed and signs are being laid out to help shoppers maintain their distance from others.
Around 85 per cent of stores are set to reopen at West Bromwich's New Square Shopping Centre on Monday. The centre has a live capacity system which will ensure they don't go over the new maximum of 1,500 people.
Steve Burr, area centre manager, said: "We have put a one-way system, ensuring we have at least four metres either side of the one-way system. There's floor markers on the floor, we have got barriers down the centre of the mall with barrier covers on reminding them of social distancing. Also on top of that we have a-boards out indicating where the hand sanitisers are on the mall, we have got eight to 10 units for customers to use.
"It will be a new type of retail. Customers will unfortunately be looking at the way they shop differently, the browsing element will be less of an option for people. We are looking forward to what we call business as normal in the new world and as quickly as possible."
intu Merry Hill has adapted its existing footfall-monitoring technology so it can accurately monitor and manage the number of people at the centre at any time. It will manage queues outside the centre when capacity is reached and there will be a raft of other measures including one-way systems, floor stickers and queues outside stores to ensure visitors stay socially distanced once inside.
Enhanced hygiene regimes that were introduced at the start of the outbreak will continue, with more deep cleaning of key areas and touchpoints like escalators, toilets and keypads.
Shops including Game, HMV, JD Sports, Pandora, Primark, River Island, Sports Direct and Waterstones are among those reopening on Monday.
Matthew Roberts, chief executive of intu, said: “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. Whilst the experience for everyone that visits intu Merry Hill will be different to normal, our teams will be on hand to deliver that warm welcome our centres have become known for.”
A number of smaller stores have remained open at Wolverhampton's Mander Centre throughout the coronavirus lockdown, but the majority of retailers will be phasing their reopening plans from Monday. The centre management has been working closely with all stores to ensure the necessary safety measures are in place. All entrances will be open from 9am, but public toilets will remain closed.
General manager Richard Scharenguivel said: "We are very much looking forward to welcoming our retailers and shoppers back to the Mander Centre. We have systems in place to ensure we and our retailers comply with the Government guidelines for shopping.
"It is important for the economy of Wolverhampton and the health of our high street that we can all enjoy the fantastic range of shops and services the centre provides.”
More stores will also open at Walsall's Saddlers Shopping Centre – but food operators and personal care services, including nail salons, will remain closed.
A spokesman for the centre said: "Social distancing measures will be clearly marked in place around the malls and we ask for the public’s support in adhering to this. Hand sanitisers will be made available for use upon entry and we encourage shoppers to wear face coverings whilst inside the mall. Capacity levels will be closely monitored by our centre management team and restrictions made if necessary.
"We look forward to welcoming back the Saddlers community and ask for everyone’s support in working together to make the shopping experience as comfortable and safe as possible at this time."