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Sun Wipes Out Snow and Guildford Town Centre Springs Back to Life Again

Published on: 12 Apr, 2021
Updated on: 13 Apr, 2021

By Hugh Coakley

Shoppers flocked back to the High Street today, 97 days after Lockdown 3 started on January 5, 2021 and more than a year since the pandemic struck, inflicting heavy damage on retail and hospitality.

Guildford town centre was busy today (April 12) at the end of lockdown “It’s like a normal day” (Photo Mandy Millyard).

The overnight snow was an initial shock to traders and shoppers, but the sunshine swiftly sprang the town to life and brought out the crowds of smiling shoppers. “It’s like a normal day again,” said one happy lady in North Street.

Tunsgate in the sun, with people eating and chatting. “Like a Brighton market street” said one happy browser (Photo Mandy Millyard).

All shops, outdoor pubs and eating establishments, hair, beauty and nail salons and indoor sports and leisure centres were allowed to reopen from April 12 under government guidelines.

Shop staff and shoppers were enthusiastic and long queues formed. Sisters, Anna and Alice McCann and friend Orla Williams outside Primark in The Friary, said: “Things have been shut for so long. It’s exciting to be here.”

Another shopper said: “I know I can get things online but I prefer to be able to see the goods before I buy.”

New shop in the High Street, Rituals. Staff Ekta, Georgia and Mariell said: “It’s simply amazing, the store, the branch and the team”.

Sales signs dominated many shop windows and staff were enthusiastically greeting customers. But the pandemic has claimed victims, mainly the chain retailers and the blank, closed fronts bear silent witness

Yet, with the obvious happiness, the atmosphere in the town is different. As the major chains disappear, more independents are appearing, particularly dining establishments.

The loss of Topshop, with Arcadia in administration, will see a huge gap in The Friary. With at least six units available to let in the centre, how significant will the loss of this anchor store be to The Friary?

With 13% of shops now empty, huge gaps appear. Many famous brands, Topshop in The Friary, Cath Kidston in the Tunsgate Quarter and Debenhams, are gone.

All are evidence of the pressure from online sales and rising costs on retail, with Covid adding to their troubles. The British Retail Consortium said the lockdowns in 2020 had cost retailers £22 billion.

Debenhams were temporarily still trading. An assistant said: “We are open for two, four or six weeks, yet to be confirmed, to sell off stock. And then trading will move to Boo Hoo online”.

Amanda Masters, CEO of Experience Guildford, said: “There were large queues outside TK Maxx, Primark, JD Sports, Debenhams and all managed extremely well. It was lovely to see the hospitality businesses getting their outside spaces ready for lunch.

“The town’s message, ‘Be cautious. Be calm. Be kind’ will appear more and more over the coming weeks.”

There were queues outside most gents’ barbers. “I’ve been cutting my own hair” said one rueful customer waiting for a “proper haircut”. (Photo Mandy Millyard).

Traders were optimistic, hoping the worst is behind them. Sam Orledge, centre manager of White Lion Walk, said: “We can’t wait to welcome all of our visitors back to Guildford and urge everyone to stay smart and stay safe as they enjoy our shops”.

Mark Goss of Moffats, the outdoor and fashion clothes shop in North Street, was glad to be back. He said there were “quite a few new shops and positive time for independents. Rents are coming down and landlords are more open to talk.”

Franco Terracciano, the owner of Positanos Italian restaurant in Tunsgate said: “We need to work now and get back our normal life.” (Photo Mandy Millyard).

Hairdressers were all busy with most salons saying they were booked for several weeks. There were queues at most gent’s barbers, where booking was not required.

Tina, manager of Tantrum Hair Extensions in Friary Street, said they were booked up for a month.

Julia Lampard Salon, just off Tunsgate, said they were booked up for the next six weeks.

Pubs and restaurants were doing a steady trade despite the restrictions of having to serve customers outside.

Adam Lintott, Red Flanagan-Brown and Mackenzie Grimes were celebrating a return to “normality”. They said: “We haven’t had a draught beer in four months”.

Guildford friends, (from left) Amy Sanders, Rebecca White, Georgie Sharpe, Lauren Walton and Gogz Lowrie met in the King’s Head in Quarry Street. “We have missed the socialising. Priority is to see friends and then the hairdresser.”

And surprisingly Debenhams was still open. An assistant said: “We are open for two, four or six weeks, it is yet to be confirmed. It is to allow franchisees to sell off stock. And then trading will move to Boohoo online. ”

The doors at Debenhams remain open… for now.

And “just passing through”, Gary Campbell from Woking, was doing a sponsored 300-mile walk for the charity, MIND. He said: “Some individuals don’t have as good networks as myself, and live with significant mental health difficulties which charities such as MIND support.”

Gary Campbell from Woking, “just passing through Guildford” on a sponsored walk for the charity, MIND.

He has raised more than £1,000 so far, walking about 200 miles in 10 days. You can support him by donating here.

“Guildford is back in Business,” was the official message.

“Be cautious. Be calm. Be kind”

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