Sunday, 05 July 2020

Welcome back ... we’ve missed you

Welcome back ... we’ve missed you

TRADERS in Henley have welcomed back customers after being closed for almost three months because of the coronavirus crisis.

Non-essential businesses, including most shops, were allowed to
re-open on Monday after the Government eased the lockdwon restrictions amid fears that the high streets would suffer irreparable damage.

This co-incided with the relaunch of the Henley Standard’s Think Local campaign, which encourages residents of the town and South Oxfordshire to visit shops and spend money.

It was initially launched in 2009 to help businesses fight back against the effects of the credit crunch which occured after the global financial crash.

Retailers who have re-opened have had to put stringent safety measures in place to protect their customers and staff from covid-19.

The Bell Bookshop in Bell Street is allowing only six people at a time inside and they are instructed to apply hand sanitiser before they touch the books.

Disposable gloves are available for extra protection and signs remind visitors to observe the 2m social distancing rule.

A one-way system has been devised for people so they do not bump into each other and a Perspex screen has been installed at the till.

The store is open from 9.30am to 3.30pm Monday to Saturday instead of closing at its usual time of 5.30pm. This gives the three staff time to disinfect in time for the next day’s trading.

Co-manager Hilary Redhead said the shop had had a steady stream of customers on Monday.

She said: “We didn’t have queues outside but it was a really good day. People were really pleased to see us and we had a lot of regular customers coming back. It was really nice to talk about books but strange to see people in gloves and masks.”

The staff wear face shields rather than masks because they want shoppers to be able to see them smile.

Mrs Redhead said: “A lot of our customers are older and it’s nice to smile at people and for them to be able to see what we’re saying.

“It’s been really lovely to re-open. There seems to be a bit of buzz in town.”

The bookshop was able to continue trade after the lockdown was announced by the Government in March as it could procure books from its wholesaler and post them to customers.

Staff were also able to deliver books themselves by dropping them off outside customers’ homes.

Mrs Redhead, who has managed the shop since 2014 with Emma Downes, said: “We were very busy up to the lockdown.

“I think everbody knew something was going to happen and then we were getting email orders through and phone enquiries. We were not taking deliveries into the shop.”

Mrs Redhead said the £25,000 support grant the business received from the Government was crucial and was used to pay suppliers and bills, adding: “That gave us a bit of room to keep going,”

She is confident that the business will continue as long as people continue reading.

Mrs Redhead said: “Reading has been key for a lot of people during this period — we can lose ourselves in a good book and forget about all this chaos.”

Liz Felix, who owns her own millinery shop in Reading Road, has
re-opened on Saturdays only from 10.30am to 5pm.

She is not open during the week unless people make an appointment and so far she has only had one of those.

The shop can accommodate up to four people safely at any one time and has an abundance of stock due to the lockdown.

There is hand sanitiser at the entrance and a Perspex screen in front of the counter and customers must wear disposable gloves when they are looking at hats.

Mrs Felix, who wears a face shield, said she would gauge how busy she is over the coming days before deciding whether to extend her opening hours but she is pleased to be open again.

“It is both weird and nice at the same time,” she said. “Normally at this time of year, I’m used to having lots of young rowers coming in from all over the world, so it’s nice to have some interaction again.

“I’ve been so isolated at home in my bedroom, which has been converted into a workshop.

“I was quite reticent about opening again, to be honest. I think people are rushing back and I don’t necessarily think that’s a good thing.”

Mrs Felix, who has run the business for six years, said that her trade this year had already been devastated because she relies on selling her homemade hats and accessories for big social occasions and all of these have been postponed or cancelled.

She said: “My core business is occasion wear. As a business, I take most of my income in the early spring and summer as it is the run-up to Royal Ascot and Henley Royal Regatta.

“You can imagine my business has been decimated. I have got a shop absolutely brimming full of hats and stock but there are no events.

“Going forward we still have no events or weddings. I do expect the restrictions on weddings to be lifted shortly but most of these have been postponed until next year.

“The majority of my business is through selling hats and occasion wear but without those occasions, no one has any need for me.

“I’m expecting next year to be a great year for me if I can hang on in there.”

Mrs Felix received a £10,000 support grant from the Government, which covered the cost of the stock she acquired for the season.

But she said this would not keep her business going indefinitely and encouraged people to buy from the town’s independent businesses when they do their shopping to help preserve them.

“I think it’s critical for all small, independent businesses in Henley to be supported in whatever small way people can,” she said.

“If people can come in and buy a purse or earrings from me every penny counts.

“If people want us to remain in Henley they have to support us. We have all had no income for months.

“If we lose independents from Henley, people will be horrified but unless they support us, they’re going to lose us and I think people will moan if we all disappear.

“Literally every penny counts whatever the sale may be. However, big or small it may be, it will help.

“The fact people can come in and say ‘hi’ and maybe buy a thing from somebody like myself is everything.

“When I sell things that’s a meal on the table for me and what people don’t know is that when I make a sale and the buyer leaves my shop, I do a little jig. We’re all excited to have sold something we make.

“I would say ‘please support your local businesses if you don’t want to lose us’. Henley is a great place and that’s why we want to be in the town. People have to remember that we really need that support.”

Daisy Boutique in Friday Street re-opened on Wednesday but owner Mandy Bowden had already welcomed some customers back on Monday when they visited while she was cleaning the shop.

About 11 people dropped in and another 15 came on Tuesday and the majority made a purchase.

The shop is currently open from 9.30am to 5pm daily from Wednesday to Saturday.

Two people are allowed in at any one time and they are asked to use hand sanitiser and wear disposable gloves for their protection.

If they find an item of clothing they like they may use the shop’s two changing rooms, which are disinfected afterwards.

Mrs Bowden said the business made no sales during the lockdown and had no capacity to sell online.

Instead it had been able to keep going with the support of a £10,000 grant from the Government.

She said this was spent “overnight”, mainly in order to pay for pre-ordered stock.

Mrs Bowden said she was glad to be back in business and grateful for the support she has had.

She said: “We are very happy to see people again. It’s been very emotional coming back.

“We’re grateful and it means the world to us that people keep supporting us. We’re very grateful.

“People are also just grateful to come out. It’s not all about money but seeing people.

“I think the important thing is to get back to some sort of normality.”

Mrs Bowden believes that despite the crisis she will get through it and sell her stock.

“In all honesty I’ve still got June, July, August to move my summer stock,” she said.

“We have got 50 per cent off some items and cracking bargains.”

The boutique will be run by her three members of staff but only one will be working at a time.

Mrs Bowden also encouraged people to “Think Local” when it came to their shopping.

She said: “We’ve got to help each other. We have given a good service for many years and I think it’s nice to get something back from the public supporting us.

“Some comments from customers have actually made me so emotional. I have taken it so personally when they have come into the shop. It’s tremendous.

“People are so sweet and I think having had to go through such a nasty time can bring the best out of people.”

Way’s rare and secondhand bookshop, which is also in Friday Street, re-opened on Monday for the first time since March.

From now on it will open from 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Saturday. Visitors are asked to disinfect their hands with gel, which is provided at the entrance.

Diana Way, who has run the business for 45 years, wears a Perspex visor for her protection and cleans the door handles with sanitiser to destroy any traces of the virus.

She said a number of people had visited the shop, including a mother and her son who came regularly, but she was not expecting a flurry of customers. Mrs Way said: “We are very much out of the way and lots of local residents don’t even know we’re here.

“Monday was a shock to the system because I have not been here for three months. We were hardly rushed off our feet but I’m sure it will be busier when pubs and cafés open again.

“During the lockdown I prepared and priced a collection of uncommon motoring brochures from the Forties to the Sixties and they are very splendid items of ephemera with wonderful graphics.

“We’ve also added lots of old, vintage and selected secondhand books — most subjects from all eras and at all levels of price.”

Asquiths teddy bear shop, in New Street is open by appointment only but founder Joan Bland intends to re-open the shop fully next month.

She wants to resume trading on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 10am to 1pm.

Visitors will be asked to use hand sanitiser and observe 2m social distancing and there will be a screen in front of the till.

Just two people will be allowed to enter at any one time unless they are part of a larger “bubble” such as a family. They will be able to browse but cannot touch any stock and once they have chosen their bear, an assistant will wrap it up at the counter before handing it to them.

All the stock is spread out and for the time being Mrs Bland does not anticipate a large volume of sales.

However, she is confident her business is here to stay despite the negative effect of the pandemic on the economy.

Mrs Bland said: “We have a very unique product and every newborn baby in the area has one of our bears.

“There are also a lot of people that collect our bears. I have a very big following and have been in Henley since 1984. If Asquiths closed there would be a lot of unhappy people but we have definitely weathered the storm.

“Once the economy starts moving again I’m sure people will want a teddy bear. People need jeans just like people need teddy bears.”

The shop continued to trade during the lockdown because it is able to sell bears via its website and over the phone.

Mrs Bland said: “People can pick items and we will deliver them. They have also been able to come and pick them up but no one has been able to come into the shop.” Jonkers Rare Books in Hart Street re-opened on Monday and is trading from 10am to 5.30pm from Monday to Saturday. 

The store benefited from a £25,000 support grant from the Government which helped pay for building expenses and stock. 

Of the five members of staff, one remains furloughed but the rest are working, with only two allowed in the shop at the same time. 

More than 10 customers have returned to the store and all visitors are asked to apply hand sanitiser before they enter. 

Trade continued throughout the lockdown via the business’s website and customers are able to receive books in the post. 

But owner Christiaan Jonkers said he was pleased to be open again because it helped to be able to provide specialist advice in person.

He said: “It’s always good because we’re able to explain things face-to-face to people coming in with a specific
question or interest and to demonstrate as we explain, which works out a lot better than by email or telephone.

“We are a niche business, so the number of customers we’ve had is not particularly unusual.”

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