'On top of the world' - Joy as shops new and old reopen in Beccles
- Credit: Reece Hanson
Businesses in Beccles are "on top of the world" as they embrace the freedom of restrictions being eased.
A number of new town centre businesses enjoyed brief openings before tougher restrictions late last year forced their temporary closures.
Now, for the first time in 2021, shoppers were welcomed back after the latest easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions on Monday, April 12.
"We can't wait to see all our new customers and talk about their holidays."
After operating behind the scenes for the last few weeks, Fred. Olsen Travel have officially opened the doors to their new branch in New Market.
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Branch manager Stacey Hammond said: "We are really excited to be open and can't wait to see all our new customers and talk about their holidays.
"There's been a lot of work behind the scenes to it's nice to get the place open."
Staff at the branch were tasked with decorating the store themselves during lockdown ahead of their official opening on Monday, with Beccles mayor Ashley Lever cutting the ribbon.
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Paul Hardwick, head of commercial, said: "Today's the first time I've been in here in a suit, but it's absolutely brilliant.
"Although our doors have been closed, people could see something was happening and we have made sure it looks great.
"We have been taking quite a lot of bookings too, mainly for 2022, and cruises are really popular at the minute too, as well as UK breaks."
The branch also teamed up with next-door neighbours Sweeties, whose former shop they have moved into, for a prize giveaway to celebrate their opening.
"It was like Christmas Eve last night and I couldn't sleep."
On the back of booming online sales in lockdown, the popular Beccles sweet shop moved into the larger store next door on New Market, transforming the former charity shop into an interactive experience straight out of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
However, owners Paul and Vanessa Kisby were only able to welcome customers into the shop for three weeks before tighter restrictions forced their temporary closure.
Mrs Kisby said: "We feel on top of the world to be open again. It was like Christmas Eve last night and I couldn't sleep.
"Not many people have been able to come and enjoy the experience, and there are a lot of children with golden tickets to spend, so we're very pleased to be open again."
"It's so nice being able to do something I really enjoy."
On December 23, in the middle of the usual Christmas rush, non-essential stores around Norfolk and Suffolk were forced to close as the counties moved into Tier 4 restrictions, with no respite before a third national lockdown began in January.
For Emily Casson, the announcement came just weeks after she "jumped in at the deep end" and opened Books and Crannies in December.
The second-hand book store on Blyburgate had opened immediately when the second national lockdown was eased, but closed a couple of days early to keep customers safe amid rising cases in the county.
She said: "When shops reopened I was walking around a bookshop on my birthday and I said to my partner I'd love to have it for myself, so I jumped in at the deep end in the middle of a global pandemic and I love it.
"It's so nice being able to do something I really enjoy and I love chatting to people about the books they like."
"It is like a lock has been freed."
Just doors along Blyburgate, another store is also finding their feet after a brief spell open before Christmas.
Sportstore already have plans to move again, with renovations ongoing at the former Bartram's shop in New Market ahead of a move this summer, but manager Charlie Nevitt has welcomed the latest step towards normality.
He said: "For me, it is like a lock has been freed. The sun is shining and we can go outside again and feel the freedom.
"I know we still have to wear masks and keep our distance, and we can't hug people, but things seem to be getting back to normal with the shops open.
"We have just taken delivery of some paddleboards, but the size of our shop doesn't really allow us the room to display them, so it's about getting people in and explaining we have more than it looks.
"We want to do it all properly, even things like having football boots is important."
"We are thrilled to have moved into our own standalone shop."
Few stores, however, were open for as short a time as the relocated Co-Op Travel branch in the former Morlings music store in New Market, with a number of familiar faces now ready to welcome back customers.
The branch had previously been based inside Beales, until the department store's collapse and closure last year.
Staff were initially relocated to Lowestoft, before their new branch opened on November 2, just three days before the second national lockdown came into force.
Welcoming customers back on Monday, branch manager Teresa Bailey-Green said: "We have some long-standing members of staff here, and I've been here over 23 years, so it's nice to be able to see our customers again.
"When Beales closed we used our Lowestoft branch to keep in touch with all of our clients during lockdown, and we were thrilled to have moved into our own standalone shop, and I look forward to welcoming our customers old and new."