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‘People are gradually starting to come back’ - town’s retailers reopen for first time in months

PUBLISHED: 17:36 15 June 2020 | UPDATED: 09:24 16 June 2020

Jim Carlile, owner of Reeds in Downham Market. Picture: Sarah Hussain

Jim Carlile, owner of Reeds in Downham Market. Picture: Sarah Hussain

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A Norfolk town is starting to see a return to ‘normal’ again as non-essential shops reopened for the first time in months.

Reeds Homestore in Downham Market reopened on Monday, June 15. Picture: Sarah HussainReeds Homestore in Downham Market reopened on Monday, June 15. Picture: Sarah Hussain

Shoppers gradually returned to Downham Market as stores reopened on Monday, June 15, which saw car parks in the town centre fuller.

But their experience would have been somewhat different to before as they were met with coronavirus signs and markers around the town centre asking people to keep left of the pavement, hand sanitiser in shop entrances and social distanced queuing and systems in shops.

Reeds Homestore and its Toy Store were among those to implement some of these measures as they opened up their doors again on Monday.

Owner Jim Carlile, said: “Downham was like a ghost town in the first two weeks of April, but now you can see more traffic and cars and people are gradually starting to come back.

Jim Carlile, owner of Reeds in Downham Market. Picture: Sarah HussainJim Carlile, owner of Reeds in Downham Market. Picture: Sarah Hussain

“There’s been a good atmosphere in the store this morning and a good buzz. It is strange times and we’re having to get used to it in different ways.

“When we first opened the doors we didn’t know what to expect.

“People have been spending more. I think because people have been off and at home, they haven’t really been spending like they usually do and so have more disposable income.”

Items which were selling well included beds, furniture, gifts and cooking pieces.

Kelly Gray, supervisor of gifts at Reeds, behind a till cover. Picture: Sarah HussainKelly Gray, supervisor of gifts at Reeds, behind a till cover. Picture: Sarah Hussain

Kelly Gray, supervisor of gifts at the store, said: “It’s good to be back, it was getting quite boring and it’s nice to talk to normal people again. It’s like we haven’t been away.”

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Mr Carlile said installing hygiene and safety measures was an “expensive exercise” with hand sanitiser dispensers, directional signage, screens and masks in place for staff and customers.

He added: “There’s calls on the government to reduce the two metres to one and I think the sooner that happens the better, as it currently isn’t viable to open up the cafe.

Ten Market Square, an independent women’s clothing and accessories shop. reopened on Monday, June 15. Picture: Sarah HussainTen Market Square, an independent women’s clothing and accessories shop. reopened on Monday, June 15. Picture: Sarah Hussain

“I’d like to reopen it, it’s a very popular destination in the store and employs 14 staff. I am worried but at the same time you have to cut your cloth accordingly.”

Despite this he said the forced closure brought about some benefits with the store being able to undergo repairs.

Mr Carlile said: “The chimney needed repairing so we were able to put up scaffolding and we re-decorated the cafe and a leak under the cafe floor.

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“So in that sense it’s a real positive we got little jobs done.”

The homestore employs 61 members of staff and currently 40pc are still on furlough, with their return unlikely until as early as July.

Also reopening for the first time since lockdown began was independent ladies fashion shop Ten Market Square.

Owner Lesley Bilton said: “It’s nice to talk to people again.

Downham Market's Peacocks reopened on Monday, June 15. Picture: Sarah HussainDownham Market's Peacocks reopened on Monday, June 15. Picture: Sarah Hussain

“I’ve had to make adjustments and only one person can come in at a time as my shop is small.

“You have to do what you can and hope it gets better.

“The reaction has been lovely, lots of people have been shouting in saying ‘good luck’ and ‘nice to see you open.”

The fashion shop owner said she will miss out on custom over the summer due to cancelled events and has had to adapt during lockdown by selling items online.

Covid-19 signs and markers have been placed in Downham Market's town centre. Picture: Sarah HussainCovid-19 signs and markers have been placed in Downham Market's town centre. Picture: Sarah Hussain

She said: “It was a bit stressful but I got a grant from the government which was amazing, it was a buffer and bills had to come out of that.

“Hopefully now I’m open, I can go back to normal.

She backed the EDP’s Love Local campaign, which is encouraging readers to spend with local firms.

She said:“People should buy and support local, when I was younger we bought from towns like this but that seems to have been taken away by supermarkets.

People followed social distancing guidelines as they queued for the Downham Market Post Office. Picture: Sarah HussainPeople followed social distancing guidelines as they queued for the Downham Market Post Office. Picture: Sarah Hussain

“The community is built on people going to town and supporting independent shops. People enjoy that one on one contact. All little towns need it.”

Peacocks on Bridge Street reopened at 9.30am on Monday, restricting 14 customers into the shop at one time.

Gemma Bland, assistant manager, said: “We did have a que first thing, it was a small one.

“We’re happy to be open again. We get a lot of older customers, so they’ve been missing the shopping.

“We’re all glad to be back and it’s brilliant seeing everyone again.”

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