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Mixed Reception On Mandatory Face Masks As More Shops Crash After Coronavirus

Published on: 28 Jul, 2020
Updated on: 29 Jul, 2020

By Hugh Coakley

There were mixed views from shopkeepers in Guildford town centre at the start of this week as shoppers were largely adhering to the new mandatory mask regime set by the government.

Some said that wearing masks in shops was affecting business but most were accepting of the new rules and said that it gave customers the confidence to shop.

Face masks are been generally accepted by shoppers in Guildford. One shopper said: “We just have to do it.”

But while shoppers were adjusting to the new normal of wearing masks, the impact of the pandemic was hitting retail hard as the number of empty shops rocketed.

The Guildford Dragon NEWS counted 57 empty shops and premises with ‘closing down’ sales in progress in the town centre, up from 47 in January 2020. Gap, the clothes retailer and Gap Kids in the High Street were both holding sales with ‘Everything Must Go’ signs in the windows.

Gap and Gap Kids are both leaving Guildford High Street leaving a huge gap in one of the busiest parts of the town.

Laura Ashley, rescued from administration in April 2020 but now focusing on online sales, was also in the process of selling its remaining stock in a ‘closing down’ sale at its North Street branch.

The loss of these major chains in prominent areas in the town will leave a major hole in the Guildford retail scene.

There were also 26 shops that had not yet opened, adding to the bleak outlook for the high street. Worst affected appears to be the upper High Street with just under a third of the shops now empty.

Carphone Warehouse is another retailer to leave the high street.

The lockdown has accelerated the decline in the viability of town centre shops with footfall in June down by 51% compared to last year. High rents and business rates and online competition have all added to the pressure on retailers and masks were just another factor making it more difficult for the generally stoical traders.

One shop manager, who didn’t want to be named, said that he estimated a 30% decrease in sales since masks were required in shops. “People don’t like wearing them. Shopping isn’t a luxury or leisure anymore.”

The majority though were resigned to the new requirement with many querying why masks had not been introduced earlier. One trader was scathing about what he saw as the government’s inaction. “Why didn’t they do it earlier? The horse has well and truly bolted now.”

Laura Ashley is now “placing a strong emphasis on building ecommerce” say its new owners.

Amanda Masters, CEO of Experience Guildford, the town’s Business Improvement District, said: “In some cases it appears to have affected footfall into shops. It appears people are even more focused on what they want to buy so there is less browsing.

“It is understandable why companies have re-thought their business models. We need to look at the recovery as an immense opportunity. Family and leisure time is now more important than ever. We now need to help re-build a town centre which caters for this shift in values.

“Independents are our point of difference and I know Guildford is very loyal to them. Very soon we will be launching a Guildford loyalty scheme, which will encourage shoppers to choose Guildford over neighbouring towns. Watch this space!”

Cllr John Redpath (Holy Trinity, R4GV), lead councillor for the economy, said: “We continue to work closely with Experience Guildford and other town centre partners to support the reopening and recovery of the town centre.

“We are focusing on economic growth and regeneration through our new town centre masterplan. This will build economic resilience and support all of our businesses. We have so far provided over £21 million in grants funded by the government and over £1 million in discretionary grants. We have a free business advice service called Guildford Business Growth that provides impartial advice on strategy and includes a monthly clinic with a mentor.

“We can’t directly influence business rates or local market rentals but we are working to create a positive town centre environment though investing in our public spaces. For example, street cleaning, the regular farmers’ market (which returns on August 4), the weekly market on North Street and encouraging visitors to the town though our heritage and tourism sites and our award-winning Tourist Information Centre and looking at opportunities to attract visitors with events such as the Vegan market.

“Next week the government Eat Out To Help Out scheme, giving 50% discount on food and soft drinks from Monday to Wednesday, launches with many of our fantastic restaurants and pubs taking part. From August 3 to 31 all of our pay and display car parks will be free from 4pm, Monday to Wednesday too – excluding Castle Car Park, York Road, Tunsgate and Farnham Road.”

Not all traders were unhappy. Mark Goss of Moffatts, the outdoor kit and fashion clothing shop in North Street said: “We’ve had ups and downs but trade is getting better and we are selling hundreds of face masks as well.”

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Responses to Mixed Reception On Mandatory Face Masks As More Shops Crash After Coronavirus

  1. Louise Jones Reply

    July 29, 2020 at 10:49 am

    As the 50% restaurant discount scheme is only available at lunchtime, wouldn’t it be better to offer the free parking for a period during the day? People might be encouraged to visit the shops before or after lunch. There’s not much open in Guildford after 4pm, especially as the cinemas, theatres and nightclubs are still shut.

    Editor’s comment: The discount scheme is not only available at lunchtime as other readers have pointed out in their comments. We apologise if anyone has been misled by this comment.

    • K White Reply

      July 29, 2020 at 3:26 pm

      It’s available during all opening hours of the business concerned, not just lunchtimes.

    • Brian Matthews Reply

      July 29, 2020 at 4:12 pm

      I am not quite sure where Louise got the idea that the 50% off discount scheme is only available at lunchtimes but rest assured this is not the case and the scheme is available all day everyday on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout August.

  2. Wayne Smith Reply

    July 29, 2020 at 2:16 pm

    Louise Jones is mistaken about the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme. It will be valid all day, Mon/Tue/Wed and not just at lunchtime.

  3. Peter Knight Reply

    July 30, 2020 at 12:24 am

    The restaurant offer is available in the evening it’s not just lunchtime.

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