Thursday, 22 April 2021

Now let's try to enjoy Christmas

Now let's try to enjoy Christmas

BUSINESSES in the Henley area are hoping to cash in when the second coronavirus lockdown ends next week.

They want to make up for the loss of sales over the past month when they would normally experience a pre-Christmas surge.

Now they hope that shoppers will be out in force between the end of lockdown on Wednesday and Christmas Eve just over three weeks later.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday that the lockdown would be replaced by the old tiers system but with tighter restrictions than previously.

He also spoke optimistically about a number of covid-19 vaccines that could start being used as early as next month.

All shops are now allowed to open as well as gyms and hairdressers and grassroots sport can resume while sports clubs such as Reading FC could be allowed to admit up to 4,000 spectators at fixtures.

All these are subject to those involved following the
government guidelines to prevent the spread of covid-19, such as social distancing, the wearing of face coverings and strict cleaning regimes.

Pubs and restaurants, which had to close at 10pm before the lockdown, can now stay open until 11pm but must call last orders for food and drink an hour earlier.

Henley and South Oxfordshire was hoping to remain in the lowest of the three tiers when these were announced yesterday (Thursday). Retailers in Henley, who have been taking safety precautions since the end of the first lockdown in July, are looking forward to seeing their customers again.

David Rodger-Sharp, who runs a jewellers in Duke Street, said: “What I love most about this time of the year is people celebrating life and expressing love.

“It builds up lots of excitement and we have lost some of that. We will start putting up our decorations on Saturday and hopefully it will start to feel more festive. I’ve had lots of messages from people asking if we will be open because they have held off on shopping online, which is really encouraging.

“The whole year has been a bit of a write-off and I think people are just desperate to get back to some kind of normality.

“They will still be cautious until we have a vaccine but there aren’t many towns like Henley, where there is a great vibe at the moment.”

Mr Rodger-Sharp, whose nine staff were furloughed during the lockdown, added: “They are really looking forward to getting back to what they enjoy doing most, which is making the customers happy.”

Jessica Jones, manager of womenswear shop Fluidity in Bell Street, said: “I just hope things will go back to normal.

“Things really picked up after the first lockdown and I’m hoping with it being the Christmas period that it will be really busy.

“We are very fortunate to have loyal and regular customers. We have been doing click and collect for the last three weeks and that has been quite popular.”

Laurence Morris, who owns Laurence Menswear in Duke Street, said: “I’m hoping we will be busy and I would say there is a very strong indication that people want to support local businesses.

“Christmas is incredibly important — I have lost a lot of trade during lockdown and with the regatta and festival being cancelled and now November, which is important in the lead-up to Christmas.

“I’ve only got two or three weeks to try to recover what I can and rebuild the business.

“I’m confident we will get through it. We are laying foundations for next year and we have to keep our fingers crossed that by Easter we are back to some sort of normality.”

Christiaan Jonkers, who runs Jonkers Rare Books in Hart Street, said: “I imagine there will be a certain amount of pent-up demand for buying Christmas presents, even though some people will have made purchases online.

“Ours is the sort of business where people want to see what they are buying and there has been a degree of frustration that people can’t come in.

“I think a lockdown in the early part of the new year is likely. There are more important things at stake here than whether or not we can remain open. Any challenges that we have faced during this year we will be able to bounce back from and hopefully we can start to look forward to things getting back to normal soon.”

Joan Bland, owner of Asquiths teddy bear Shop in New Street, said: “This is an important time of the year and one of our busiest months.

“Every retailer will be hoping for something good to carry them through the first few months of next year. We were closed for a considerable amount of this year so it has affected our turnover but we have had to do our best. We are very conscious that there is a pandemic and we don’t want to play a part in spreading it.”

Pam Edwards, manager at Busby & Fox in Bell Street, said: “Christmas is part of the golden quarter in retail. It is unfortunate that we had to close previously but we are confident about reopening.

“We were very busy before we closed, so we assume we will do about the same as we did last year. We are being very positive about it.”

David Thompson, who runs the Little Angel in Remenham Lane, Henley, is hopeful that it will be busy in the remaining time to Christmas.

He said: “It is such a big pub, so it is perfect for social distancing. We had plans and menus all drawn up ready for Christmas and instead of parties we are offering a themed menu. We will just try to get as many tables of six as possible for lunch and dinner and we will also have some live music.

“The biggest thing for me is the vaccine — there is light at the end of the tunnel and I’m hoping the worst case scenario for that is Easter.”

Hannah Dickson, co-owner of the Three Tuns in Market Place, Henley, said: “It is an important time and I just hope people will be sensible and not go crazy. We were very busy after the first lockdown because of the Eat Out to Help Out, but we don’t know what to expect this time.

“It is a pretty important time of the year but I think everyone is prepared and knows it won’t be normal. Hopefully, it will still be special.”

Melanie Roberson, who runs the Saracen’s Head in Greys Road with her husband Colin, said: “If we are in tier 1, it is happy days. If we aren’t then it does start to become a bit of a worry. We are a wet-led pub, so we can’t be open if we go into tier 2.”

The Marc Antoni hair salons in Hart Street, Henley, and Church Street, Caversham, will re-open on Wednesday.

Julie Giamattei, a director, said: “We are very pleased to be opening. It is exciting and there is going to be three weeks of craziness. It has been really tough and we are very worried about another lockdown. I think it will happen again in January.”

Jamie Belcher, who runs Bell Street Barbers in Henley, said: “I don’t know if it will ever go back to being normal.

“Christmas is one of our busiest times of the year because you would normally see people who will be going to parties and meeting up with their families. Those factors won’t be the same this year, so I think it will be quieter.

“I can’t help but think we might have some more restrictions after Christmas and I don’t think this will be the end of it.”

Henley town and community manager Helen Barnett is looking ahead to next year. She said: “Henley is not just for Christmas. We have a lot of next year to get through before the vaccine will be widely available, so it is about supporting the town as much as possible. There are notoriously bad months at the start of the year when traders will need support.

“It is still essential that we encourage people to support local in these challenging times. There have been a lot more people out and about during this lockdown but people have been behaving very well.”

Henley leisure centre will be open again, including the swimming pool, with the same restrictions as before the lockdown.

Centre manager Kevin Williams said: “We have had a member of staff checking the building every day to keep an eye on everything, so now it is just a case of giving it a good clean and getting everything ready.

“The really good news is it looks like we will be allowed to stay open even if the area moves into tier 2. It feels quite positive at the moment and we just want to get back to where we were before all this started.”

Joanne John, who runs the Fitness Space Henley gym at Centenary Business Park, said: “I wasn’t too confident they would allow us to be open, so it is brilliant news. We are very pleased and we think it is the right decision.

“Having fast food shops open selling unhealthy food but having gyms and grassroots sport closed was such a ludicrous decision.

“December is really going to be about keeping up with the good work we were doing in October. We were very strict with our rules and decreased class sizes “We are going to continue with virtual classes and we think they will be a lot more popular during the winter months.

“We are very positive and hopefully we will stay open and this will be the last lockdown we will have to go through.”

AFC Henley players will resume training on Wednesday and play their first matches next Saturday.

Chairman Trevor Howell said: “We are starting where we left off and we will have our usual home games. The kids are desperate to play.

“I am personally very apprehensive about the virus and the way it’s spreading and the more we meet the riskier it becomes but we are glad to be back playing football.

“I am very sceptical about the Government’s policies and they seem to be treating Christmas as a free-for-all. We all know what happened last time we came out of lockdown — there was a massive resurgence in the virus.”

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