The last few months have been a strange time for everyone. For many of us, we've had to stay at home to protect loved ones whilst others have been working tirelessly to keep the nation going. It was perhaps inevitable then, that as we take our first steps back to some sort of normality, the circumstances would feel alien.
Last Monday saw retail businesses up and down the country re-open their doors for the first time since March. In Basingstoke Town Centre we saw national retailers standing together with our small and independent businesses to safely welcome back their customers. Since being given the green light by the Government, all businesses have been working feverishly to install the proper safety measures to protect not only visitors but also the staff returning to work to serve them.
The day of re-opening started bright and early for some, with queues forming outside shops from 8 am. Despite the waiting times to enter their favourite shop, it didn’t seem to dampen the mood of returning shoppers. On the contrary, people seemed more than happy to wait their turn, after waiting months, what was another 20, 30, 40 minutes? Shoppers were also, overall, well drilled on social distancing measures and the need to stick to them, understanding that we as individuals all had a part to play in keeping each other safe. When moving around the Town Centre, visitors are being asked to stay left to keep distant from one another. Within the Malls, shoppers are being asked to follow the walkway marked out for them on the floor and to keep to the middle of the walkaway to avoid those queuing. Festival Place also developed a one-way system to help guests keep a distance from one another. There are various hand sanitising stations around the town and car parks. And public toilets are open, in case you were wondering, in The Malls and the lower level of Festival Place.
Long lines quickly formed outside Primark and Sports Direct, who were offering NHS staff a 50% discount on the day. Many of the shoppers were parents in need of new clothes following lockdown, although some were happy to get out and enjoy a slice of normality. Throughout the day the town played host to several local and national news teams eager to document the re-opening. Basingstoke MP Maria Miller also made an appearance, speaking to small and local businesses on their experiences of lockdown and the challenges of re-opening. Police and PCSOs were on hand to help visitors understand social distancing guidelines and reminding individuals to play their part. The enthusiasm for shopping continued throughout the week as more retailers opened their doors. Debenhams, Next, KFC and Greggs all reopened their doors for visitors at various points during the week.
Since the start of lockdown, people have expressed a greater interest in shopping locally. Perhaps born from the necessity not to travel, we hope this trend will continue once all restrictions lifted. We hope that this trend is not abandoned as quickly as others in our fast-paced social media filled worlds. And that people will recognise the importance of supporting their local town centres and the businesses within them.
There are many ways we can work to support local businesses, that go beyond buying their goods. You can share their social media with your followers and open them up to new potential customers. You can leave positive reviews on their social media feeds to help boost them up that all-important Google search ranking. If you are still shielding, you can buy gift vouchers to use at a later date.
If you have found yourself wanting to do more to support independent businesses in the coming months of recovery, keep an eye out for our B independent window stickers. The stickers were specially designed for independent businesses around the town centre to raise awareness of the multitude of indies we have in Basingstoke and the diversity they bring to our high street.
With the successful re-opening of retail businesses in the town centre, we can now look forward to welcoming back pubs, bars, the cinema and much-needed hairdressers and barbers in the next few weeks!