Thursday, 24 September 2020

Shops trying to get tills ringing again

Shops trying to get tills ringing again

SHOPS in South Oxfordshire are getting busy again after re-opening following the coronavirus pandemic.

All “non-essential” businesses were told to close by Boris Johnson on March 23 and had to wait until Monday last week before they could begin trading again.

Owners have had to spend money on additional safety measures to protect their customers and staff, despite having had no income for almost three months apart from government grants of £10,000 and £25,000 to help them meet costs such as rent and utility bills during the lockdown.

Inspiration, a card and gift shop in High Street, Goring, has had a steady flow of customers since it
re-opened on Monday last week. It is open from Monday to Saturday, from 9am to 5pm.

Owner Jeanne Hunter, who celebrates the shop’s 15th anniversary this year, said: “I wanted to keep our hours the same. We have been here a long time now and our village has a big elderly population.

“We hope people will be brave enough to come out and shop. In a weird way, quite a few customers have said that we are safer than the bigger shops.

“It is difficult for us to judge how things went in our first week. It went better than I expected but was a false economy because of Father’s Day for which we had a lot of people coming in. We will get a much better idea in the next few weeks of how things are going.”

There is a hand sanitiser station outside the shop, which ensures customers have clean hands before they enter.

A protective screen has also been installed around the till area and face masks are available if customers request them.

Mrs Hunter said: “Everyone that comes in has to wash their hands with the sanitiser we have provided to ensure all of the stock is clean.

“Because of the sort of business that we are people like to pick things up and look at cards before they buy them.

“Unfortunately, all of my staff are quite elderly and are at home so it is just me. I would usually have three part-time staff with me.

“We try to hire retired people from the local community but that means they are a little bit more susceptible.

“We have had customers come in who are actively shielding and they have said it is the only shop they have been in since the lockdown started because they feel safe enough to come in.”

Mrs Hunter put her staff on furlough and received a £10,000 business grant through South Oxfordshire District Council.

She made the most of her time at home in Marlow with her husband Kevin and their children Dylan and Gabriel by selling helium balloons through Facebook, which helped her to cope financially during the lockdown. She said: “The business grant helped us tremendously with ongoing bills and we are very lucky to be here as we are very well supported by the local community.

“Being in a small village, I think people understand the idea that if they don’t use us they will lose us and we have good products and reasonable prices.

“If anybody isn’t feeling comfortable about leaving home, then please don’t, but if you are happy to venture out then we are happy to help and take any measure to make you feel safe.”

Abby Denton, owner of Penelope’s Doggy Boutique in Goring, says her business is as strong as ever despite the lockdown.

The business, which is also in High Street, re-opened last month having beem closed since the start of March.

Mrs Denton had taken her two children, Summer, six, and Jude, three, out of childcare and wanted to spend time with them and her husband Tarran at their home in Upper Basildon.

The business, which first opened in May last year, is open on weekdays from 9.30am to 5.30pm, offering different types of grooming treatments dog food.

Mrs Denton, who has three members of staff, said: “We closed slightly earlier than we needed to.

“We completely emptied the shop and deep cleaned everything because we weren’t sure how long the virus had been around for and we wanted to clean all of the stock individually and the shelves.”

She said that since it re-opened the shop had been busy.

“On the first day we opened I took 60 bookings,” she said. “Pierreponts café next door have changed their business by offering takeaways. They have a takeaway window and a lot of our customers like to drop their dogs off and then go next door and get a coffee.”

Customers are encouraged to use the hand sanitisers as they enter and exit. They are also able to pay over the phone, or at a later date, to minimise contact.

Those who need dog food have it delivered and Mrs Denton sends them a message to tell them it has arrived.

The business received a £10,000 business grant to help during the eight weeks that the shop was not trading.

Mrs Denton said: “It has been really positive and we have had lots of people.

“Because we are a small village shop, we are not packed out and it has worked really well.

“We have found that people have a positive approach to getting back out there with confidence. That doesn’t surprise me at all. I had a lot of calls while we were closed asking for us to re-open, which is why we re-opened earlier than I first thought we might.

“I would encourage everyone in Goring to be confident about shopping. We are all putting safety measures in place.

“We are all working hard to make sure that we can get back to what we want to do.”

Nicola Challis, owner of That Lovely Stuff in High Street, Watlington’s, re-opened on Tuesday last week.

The shop, which has been open for two-and-a-half years, sells handmade gifts from local producers and has been continuing to trade online since the end of March.

Mrs Challis, who lives in Brook Street, Watlington, serves customers with only the help of her mother Janet, who lives in Thame.

The shop is open from 9am to 5pm, Tuesday to Saturday. Mrs Challis said: “We had an excellent first week. The people of Watlington are all very supportive of local businesses and they all came out to support us.

“They said how lovely it was to be able to come out and do their shopping again.”

She is still waiting to receive a £10,000 business grant, which she applied for in April.

“We could really do with it, although we have managed to get through it up until this point,” said Mrs Challis.

“We did reasonably well with online orders, although nowhere near as well as we would have done if the shop was open. It has been a big help but things could always be better.”

Mrs Challis has introduced hygiene measures to protect customers as well as having had the premises a deep cleaned.

There is a one-way system in place and the changing rooms have been closed. Hand sanitiser, gloves, face masks and wipes are all available and only three customers can be in the shop at once.

Mrs Challis said: “Everyone who has come in has been happy. We are only allowing a certain number of people in the shop at one time but Watlington isn’t super busy, so it we don’t have that issue too often.

“In terms of footfall, we have had more than I expected. It was especially good in the first three days when the weather was nice. With the rain it was little quieter.

“Father’s Day always helps bring in extra business but we would like to see how things go from now on. I think a lot more people will shop locally now and Watlington does have a local feel to it.

“I would always tell people to do what makes them feel comfortable but I think all the shops have done a brilliant job to make sure everything is clean and they will all deliver if people don’t want to venture out.

“In the early days, we did quite a few doorstep deliveries but now most people are either shopping online or coming into the shop.”

Bella Luce, a lighting shop in High Street, Watlington,
re-opened on Tuesday last week. Its hours are 9.30am to 5pm, Tuesday to Saturday.

The business, which began almost five years ago, is run by Louise Stile and Loraine Daniels and they have no other staff.

Mrs Stile said: “Lots of customers are pleased to see us back open so it has been good.

“Before we had to close, the business was in a very good place and growing year on year.

“We are looking forward to getting back to the same level and are positive about the future.

“The closure will hit our annual turnover but I hope we are established enough that people will come back. Lighting is more of a considered purchase and not an impulse buy.”

She said they had received a business grant which took away the anxiety and worry over bills.

The shop was deep cleaned before it re-opened.

Now it is allowing only one person or members from a single household to enter at one time. Some stock has been removed from the shop floor area to provide more space.

There is hand sanitiser and gloves available as you enter the shop and social distancing is encouraged.

Mrs Stile, who lives in Cuxham, said: “Trade has been slower than normal but people are cautious. Many people still have their children at home, so things are not back to normal.

“A lot of local shops have been open during lockdown, which means people from the surrounding areas have come here to do their shopping and have said they will now continue to come.

“This period will have brought people here who wouldn’t have come before so we are positive about the high street going forward. We have received some good feedback.”

Stilla Hem in High Street Watlington, which sells Scandinavian accessories and gifts as well as seasonal decorations, also re-opened on Tuesday last week, having been closed since the end of March.

Owner Susanne Charlett is the only person working at the shop , which is open from 10am to 5pm, Tuesday to Saturday.

Mrs Charlett said: “Things were really good in our first week back — it was beyond my expectations to be honest.

“People have been very supportive. I have had lots of sales and the high street has been busy with people popping in and saying they will come back again. I wasn’t sure how it would go.”

Mrs Charlett, who launched the business in October 2017, said that she would check the building during the lockown and noticed that the high street was relatively busy with “essential” shops such as the butcher’s till trading.

“That reassured me for when the other shops like kne were re-opening,” she added.

She has implemented a one-way system in the shop and only one person is allowed in at a time, or two from the same household.

There are notices on the door, telling people not to come in if they have covid-19 symptoms. Upon entering, there is a hand sanitiser station with gloves and customers can also have disposable face masks on request.

Mrs Charlett, who lives in Cuxham, said: “We have to be sensible because we are a small shop. I have a screen in front of my desk and I have tried to cover everything.

“If people are going to touch, I ask them to wear gloves. I wanted to be as reassuring as possible. Everyone is happy to sanitise when they enter and leave and not touch items unless they are going to buy it.

“I disinfect the card machine before I hand it over. I am confident that the business is going to be successful. I am a specialist shop with interior items and handmade jewellery and I have every confidence it will continue to go well.

“At the beginning none of us knew the scale of the pandemic and there was an element of uncertainty. Gradually, there has been more support available, which has been more reassuring.”

Occasions, a greetings card shop in Wood Lane, Sonning Common, opened on Monday last week. It is open from 9.15am to 4.15pm, Monday to Saturday, but closes for lunch from 1.15pm to 1.45pm.

It is run by Lynda Stiles and her husband David who have furloughed their two staff.

Mrs Stiles said: “This is our eighth year and before lockdown we were having a very good year and better than previous years. once the lockdown, we have only done orders for delivery and collection.”

She said it took some time for trade to return once the shop was open again.

“It was quite quiet to start with and then it started to pick up, although we are a bit below where we would normally be,” said Mrs Stiles. “People seem to be happy to come and shop with us again.

“There were more elderly customers than I was expecting. I had a gentleman in who is 85 and has diabetes but was still out and about — I had expected people to be more cautious.

“People seem confident to go out but you get two extremes. There are people who are blasé about it and then you get other people who wear masks and gloves and stand back.”

The Stiles, who live in Winnersh, have introduced a series of safety measures in the shop. There are markings on the floor to help customers keep apart and they are asked to sanitise their hands when they enter and exit. Any returns will be quarantined for 72 hours. There are screens around the till area.

The couple are spending extra time cleaning the premises at the end of each day.

On Wednesday afternoons, the business is closed but will open for pre-booked appointments for people who have concerns about visiting during regular hours.

Mrs Stiles said: “We are limiting the number of people in the shop and they are more than happy to wait if need be. We are actively monitoring it.”

The Government’s support schemes had been helpful.

“It took a while for the furlough scheme to kick in but once it did that was really useful,” said Mrs Stiles. “The business grant from the council didn’t pay out until the beginning of this month, so there was a delay on that. It will help us to pay our rent.

“Without the Government’s assistance, it would have been much harder. We can cover ourselves with savings but we wouldn’t have covered the rent.

“We have broken into our pension to give ourselves some money and put food on the table. Without the intervention, we would definitely have closed.

“We haven’t put a date on when we will bring our staff back yet and we would look to make use of the flexible furlough scheme. As long as things pick up, we will carry on.”

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