‘Don’t punish us’: shops urge customers not to be put off by face mask rule
- Credit: Archant
Independent businesses have urged customers not to “punish” retailers by staying away after they were told they had to wear masks in shops.
But despite fears that wearing masks may deter shoppers, owners are hopeful that supportive customers will see them through.
They backed this paper’s Love Local campaign, which encourages readers to make the most of the power of the pound and spend it in independent and family-run companies.
Robin Norton has owned men’s clothing business Dogfish since launching it 28 years ago, and said that the pandemic had been the most challenging time for the industry in his experience.
“It’s a catch-22. On the one hand people want to be safe and to wear masks, on the other people are saying they won’t come to shops if they have to wear one,” he said.
“It’s frustrating because they have to wear masks in some shops and can then go to the pub and not wear one.
“Norwich is one of the cities that also seems to have been least impacted by the pandemic which bodes well. It seems to have been handled in a very calm and orderly manner which makes me think that people might be more comfortable giving it a go. The other thing to bear in mind is that we have really loyal customers.”
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Dogfish employs around 20 people and is based in Bedford Street in the city centre. Mr Norton said: “If it all went online that would be a worry because we’d lose the art of conversation and seeing people in person – we want to keep that alive.”
Elsewhere at family-run bookshop Bookbugs and Dragontales the owners have asked for the public not to penalise shops for government policy.
Leanne Fridd, who runs the Timberhill shop alongside husband Dan, said: “I really hope that the people who don’t want to wear masks don’t punish the high street for something that’s been mandated by government.
“If people don’t want to come into shops yet because they don’t feel it’s safe enough that’s entirely understandable – but I hope that people who simply object to wearing masks won’t take it out on us.”
She added that the bookshop, which specialises in children’s books as well as selling adult reads, has seen people already opting to wear masks inside.
“In the past couple of days we’ve noticed more people wearing masks anyway. Essentially the only way we’re going to get through this and avoid a second spike in the winter is if we all work together and try to make it fun,” she said.
In the shop adults and older children are being asked to wear gloves when touching books and are being offered disposable masks if they would like them.
“What’s lovely is that the children really want to be involved – they’re asking to wear the gloves because they want to be part of what’s going on. We’ve tried to make it fun by calling them super hero masks and linking putting on gloves to when characters do it in books. It works so much better if you just make it a fun experience so they don’t find it scary,” she said.
The message was the same at Jarrold, a stalwart of Norfolk businesses with stores in Norwich, Cromer and Wymondham.
Chief executive Minnie Moll said: “Many customers have admitted to feeling some trepidation before coming into the city but been pleasantly surprised by how safe and comfortable they have felt, both in the shops and around the city centre.
“We recognise that some people are more cautious and perhaps haven’t visited the city yet.
“If making a face covering compulsory in shops enables these people to feel safer, then that is a positive thing.
“So far Norwich has ‘opened up’ in a very controlled, gentle and positive way and we very much hope that will continue.”