FEATURE IMAGE: Malcolm Stoney Photography
After being closed to the public for almost three months, Skipton’s independent shops will begin opening their doors again from June 15th. Since lockdown was implemented in England, many independent retailers have relied on government grants and loans to see them through what must have been an incredibly worrying time. For most, such payments have gone towards paying rent on their closed shops and paying invoices for stock that they had no way of selling. Others managed to adapt their businesses and spent lockdown trading successfully online. Lockdown has affected each business differently – some have struggled whilst others continued to thrive.
The frustration and uncertainty felt by our local shop owners must have been overwhelming but now, with Skipton preparing to reopen to both locals and tourists, there are new concerns. COVID-19 has by no means disappeared and is still a very credible threat. Whether or not locals choose to venture into town and shop as they used to remains to be seen. With the possibility of a second peak still at the forefront of our minds, it is understandable that some may be reluctant to visit local shops quite so soon.
.We spoke to a few of Skipton’s independent shop owners to find out more about how they have coped during lockdown, how they feel about reopening and what measures they are putting in place to ensure the safety of their staff and customers. Here’s what they had to say…
Zoe Dickinson – The Geek Side
“Things have been very tough over the last 10 weeks. Sales are obviously down, as we are solely relying on social media and website traffic. Although we’ve been at home every day, we have still been working hard. We’ve managed to keep up our social media presence which has enabled us to gain a few sales via our website. We were advised by the local police that we could only travel to work once a week, so we offered a 20% discount on all products to compensate for the extra wait which has helped us sale wise. We’ve also engaged with other small businesses who have plugged us on social media which helped us reach new people who had never heard of us before – and vice versa!
“We’ve been trying to compete against internet giants, such as Amazon, who have still managed to offer next day delivery. This is a massive challenge in normal circumstances, so has just been amplified during lockdown.
“I’m very anxious about reopening. The guidelines provided aren’t very clear and some other shops in the area aren’t sure what measures to take prior to reopening. At this moment in time we’re just keeping an eye on the R Rate and we will be making the decision whether to reopen on the 15th closer to the time. We have taken a lot of precautionary measures for the safety of customers and ourselves for when we do decide to open again though.
“My main concern is a possible lack of customers. It’s no secret that many Skipton businesses were struggling before COVID-19 and this has really made the final decision to stay or leave for many. Lots of people are still very nervous about venturing out and I fear it will impact the amount of customers we will get. I’m unsure whether people will queue for non-essential items, especially with limited parking, when they can order them safely from their own homes online, meaning we could lose more of our shops. This was always a problem and is just the way the world works now, so we are in real danger of more closures unless people come to support us.
“We’ve made quite a few changes in store to make customers and staff feel safe. We have provided masks for staff to wear while working. We’ll be asking everyone to sanitise their hands on entering the store, meaning it will be safer for everyone when browsing items. Staff will be washing their hands every hour as advised in the new guidelines. We’ve added a one way system on both floors, asking people to keep 2m apart, with directional signs to give way in places where it bottlenecks (stairs, doorway, etc.). We have added a screen for the counter as it is impossible to remain 2m apart at the till. We’re also asking people to not loiter by the counter. We understand that a lot of people come in to see us and have a chat, but sadly with the new social distancing rules we cannot have the area clogged up for other customers to maneuver safely around the store.”
Michelle Nye – Chocolates and Truffles
“I really didn’t think we would be busy once the shop closed on the 23rd but I was wrong. We saw a high demand for handmade Easter eggs and chocolates both online and doing local deliveries. We were often working until late into the evening. Many people chose us because we were located close to relatives they couldn’t visit over Easter. People wanted to show their love through gifting chocolate. I hope we have gained new customers in Skipton and the surrounding area. We also delivered chocolate for a charity which I felt privileged to be a part of.
“We are busy preparing for the shop reopening. I probably intend to open at the latter end of the week rather than all 6 days. Of course, we will follow retail guidance and adhere to the Government guidelines. We need evidence of footfall before bringing back all our staff.
“I really don’t know how people will feel about non-essential shopping which should be a pleasure not fraught with restrictions. Some people will enjoy shopping. Others will be more cautious. We will see but it is important to shop local and support all Skipton businesses.”
Tina Botterill – Cool Cards and Gifts
“As a retailer, lockdown has been hard. Thanks to Independent Skipton we have had orders filtering through and some very supportive customers have given us regular requests for cards and gifts.
“We are hoping to open initially just on market days 10.00 a.m.-3.00 p.m. We are having a three-sided screen made for the counter, have face shields and a large sign being printed by our next-door neighbour, Omnis, stating “one person only in the shop and please sanitise on entry”.
“I am not sure what to expect in terms of business but we hope people will support the small independents to help them recover and continue trading in our lovely town.”
Mandy Abramson – Cinderella’s
“I am not allowed to trade online under contract conditions from my suppliers ( and prefer the personal touch anyway) but I have been posting constantly on Facebook trying to keep up morale, anything from competitions and dress pictures to jokes and silly memes. I have also been in regular contact with many of our brides who are dealing with postponed weddings and have been able to reassure them that there will be no extra charges or worries about alteration slots on a different date.
“Wedding season this year has pretty much disappeared completely. I have posted a full list of our safety measures on our Facebook page and we have been busy building a new website, making it really easy for brides to see every dress in the shop before they call in by appointment only. This will be updated daily as new samples start to arrive. I am already taking bookings for trying on sessions. We will be re-open on June 15th unless government guidelines change.”
Ruth Eidsforth – Discount Sports
“Lockdown has been a challenging time for Discount Sports as it has for all independent retailers. We have, however, tried to focus on making positive changes to our business.
“We have used this time to complete lots of tasks that have been on our ‘to do’ list since we first got the keys for the shop in February last year. We have created a website to allow customers who may be a little anxious about visiting physical shops to still shop with us. There is the option of click and collect or delivery with DPD Local.
“We have made quite a few changes to the shop including painting and new wall displays. We are excited to re-open our doors next Monday (15th) and welcome our customers back. We have put in place lots of social distancing measures including several hand sanitising stations and a screen in the till area.
“Thank you to all our customers who have continued to support us during this difficult time, whether that be from a like or comment on social media, a message to check if we need anything, lovely gifts of homemade bread being dropped off and of course, all the orders! We can’t wait to see you all again.”