St Albans is buzzing as shops reopen post-lockdown
- Credit: Archant
After weeks of lockdown, non-essential shops are back open today and eager for customers.
I couldn’t wait to get out there in St Albans and spend the day mooching around to see how people were adjusting to the new experience.
First stop...The Dressing Room.
Staff look happy to be back and the store is packed with fresh colours for summer and a new ‘holiday at home’ edit.
There is a rope barrier on the door which gives things a bit of a red carpet-feel with an explanation that if more than 10 people are inside, customers might have to wait.
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There is a classy virus-protecting plastic screen at the pay point that looks like it has been chosen for being on-trend, if there were such a thing.
Owner Deryane Tadd describes the last three months as “the hardest of her life”, and I joke that I have had a conversation with my husband about my altruistic wish to ‘support her’ by buying everything.
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I am able to try things on and the fitting room feels no different to usual, although they are having to clean in between uses and clothes are being steamed before going out onto the shop floor again.
Nothing feels clinical, which I appreciate, as just about the only shop I have been going in for the last three months feels like I’m at the dentist.
Customers are coming in and showing the staff photos of their new puppies and catching up.
Then I go next door to Chloe James. I get a warm welcome and one of the staff is cleaning the outside wall with a big smile on her face.
There are spots on the floor to ensure people keep a 2m distance, which seems to be the case in most places as I continue my expedition.
I pop into Gail’s bakery for a coffee and a brownie but I accidentally walk too close to a woman by The Boot, who opens her arms out as if she is a swan about to take off and makes a disgruntled noise to ward me away. I feel slightly guilty and berate myself for not remembering.
It is hard to keep the distance the whole time, especially while being overcome with excitement for cake and new sandals.
As I am walking through Market Place, I see lots of people wearing masks.
A few people have impressive plastic visors that look like something the vet might try and sell you after operating on your cat – the ones that end up getting your arms shredded to bits and needing more medical attention than your pet, after trying to get them to wear it.
Cositas is buzzing and the owner Emma Bustamante has tried to pre-empt all her customers queries with solutions.
It appears that a lot of thinking time has gone into the post-shutdown shopping set-up and, let’s face it, time has not been in short supply for many over the last few months.
Over to The Maltings and large queues can be seen outside Topshop, Wilko, H&M and Schuh. A Schuh queue is not something I have seen before yet people are patiently and happily waiting their turn.
There is some sort of complicated system for TK Maxx shoppers which looks like it is being facilitated by an astronaut. It scares me a little as it seems to involve standing far from the store and quite a bit of pointing.
Nobody seems too phased and there is a buzz and sense of freedom in the air.
Customer of WH Smith Nick Branch said he isn’t nervous about being out now lockdown has eased.
Nick said: “Maybe a little cautious, but not nervous. I have come out to buy some Father’s Day gifts and cards.”
An older couple on a bench in Christopher Place with a big blue sign between them tell me they feel “very nervous” about being out but wanted to give it a try.
The familiar faces of the Hotel Chocolat staff are a welcome sight to me and I notice they are not walking about giving out chocolate like they usually do.
There is a sanitising station in the corner of the shop and staff are all masked.
Store manager Louise Challenor said: “I was a little bit apprehensive this morning as I didn’t know what to expect. We have had a nice steady flow of visitors so far.”
I see a mother and daughter outside Paperchase doing a sort of two-metre rule dance with a person coming out of the card shop. It all feels rather British and polite.
Overall I loved the buzz of the streets again and the immediacy of not have to order everything online.
The connection with sales assistants, many of whom I have seen for years and taken for granted, is something I have missed.
If you’re going to visit the shops then have plenty of coffee, make more time than usual and be kind to fellow shoppers and staff.
It is an odd time, but we can get through it.