April 12: St Albans shops re-open
- Credit: Matt Adams
The sun is shining, people are buzzing and shops and salons have opened today. It feels surreal, and at the cost of sounding shallow, I'm a little overwhelmed by the choices suddenly on offer.
There have been months of looking at tiny things on a screen, guessing what colour they are and how they will fit and then waiting four years only to miss the delivery man because the kettle was louder than his knock.
People are now seemingly well-accustomed to the social distancing dancing as I navigate my way through The Maltings and Christopher Place with fellow Herts Ad journalist Matt Adams.
We happily wait 20 minutes for a bacon sandwich from Kiosk as it's less boring than waiting at the window for a Deliveroo bike.
My fringe, now down to my mouth, has been causing a few visual impairments and the Kirby grip holding it back is beginning to come loose.
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I feel actually elated that the lovely Charmaine in HOB salon squeezes me in for a fringe trim and I skip to the cashpoint to give her a tenner as a tiny thank you.
The vibe is far too frivolous far a real-life Monday; People laden down with bags are smiling and even dogs and children are behaving themselves, glad to be out in the fresh air.
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Shops are buzzing and in one boutique I visit, a lady has just spent £400. It's freezing cold but nobody seems to care and the standard coffee-cup-clutching is in full swing.
Shop owners, staff and hair dressers all seem full of cheer and grateful for the opportunity to provide face-to-face customer service again.
There are big queues outside Clarks, Oliver Bonas and Tiger, as eager customers wait patiently to enter.
I can't help feel sad for the ones that didn't make it through; Top Shop, Office, River Island, Oasis, Cath Kidston and Jones the Bootmaker among them... Hopefully now there's a light at the end of the Covid tunnel we will see new businesses occupying their vacant premises.
We spoke to some city centre retailers to find out how they felt opening their doors after three months of lockdown.
Donna Nichol of Chloe James Lifestyle said: "There seemed to be a lot more work to do to be ready for opening this time. This is the longest continual period of lockdown that we’ve had and we have been running as a solely online business since 19th December.
"It just wasn’t worth unpacking, labelling and displaying stock that was going to be packed up again and posted out to online customers. Not to mention that there wasn’t the manpower when the team were furloughed and it was just me!
"Now it’s all hands on deck. The shop has had a thorough clean throughout, we’ve installed a new till system, all the products are displayed and ready to be seen, and I’ve sourced some new brands that I’m really excited about.
"I’m really hopeful for the year ahead for both the shop and the online business. Lockdown has brought it home to people how important their independent businesses are to the community - not just as places to shop, but also in keeping the town centre looking good and feeling like a nice place to spend time."
Cositas owner Emma Bustamante said: "We are so excited to be open again. This is what we do best: engaging with our customers, creating a gorgeous environment for them to come and browse and be inspired. We can't wait to see everyone again!"
Phil Corrigan, manager of The Maltings Shopping Centre, said: "What a great day to start the end of the third lockdown - the weather's great, the snow and the rain stayed away. There are a lot of people around today, there's a great buzzy atmosphere, and it's a very safe environment."
Deryane Tadd of The Dressing Room added: "It's been great, it just feels much more natural to be back open again and see people's friendly faces."
St Albans is properly back in business, and I for one couldn't be happier!