Coronavirus: What will shopping in NI look like?

By Ali Gordon

  • Published
Media caption,

Diane Dodds announced on Monday that all non-essential shops can reopen from 12 June

All non-essential retailers can reopen in Northern Ireland from Friday after months of uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

But with social distancing measures in place, how will the shopping experience look for customers?

From a wool and craft store in Banbridge to a tailor in Belfast, BBC News NI has asked different businesses how they plan to reopen.

Many feel the executive has left lots of unanswered questions.

The Department for the Economy said it has set out "principles and practical steps for employers and employees to keep themselves and their workplaces safe".

Lorna Butler owns a wool and craft business in Banbridge, County Down.

With people spending more time at home during lockdown, she says there has been an increase in people wanting to learn new skills, so she has been using social media to share ideas of how people can get crafty and has also run a delivery service.

Image source, Crafty Wishes
Image caption,
Lorna Butler, who runs Crafty Wishes in Banbridge, says the new measures lose

But she says she was given limited guidance around reopening from the Northern Ireland Executive, and had to speak to a local councillor for advice.

"This is going to be quite a challenge," she told BBC News NI.

"People are used to coming into the shop and spending loads of time, browsing though patterns, pulling out wools for texture and colours.

"Small brick and mortar shops are always at a disadvantage to online traders.

"The feather in our cap is the knowledge and personal service we can provide."

Lorna has adapted her business by making up kits of products, such as buttons, and the shop has "had a wee facelift".

While she is looking forward to reopening, she said: "I hope they don't all arrive at the one time!"

Image source, Suitor Bros

Belfast tailor Chris Suitor is going to ask his customers and staff to wear masks but he says "there aren't that many specific guidelines out there" for the fashion industry.

"We've got clear plastic screens to shield staff and customers from each other, hand sanitiser stations, signage to ensure that there is a one-way system in place and we're going to limit the amount of people allowed in."

'Keeping staff and customers safe'

He said most measurements can be done from the back, limiting face-to-face contact.

"There's a whole lot going about in the fashion industry about having to remove the garment if it has been tried on but there are no set guidelines at the moment for smaller independent retailers on that," he said.

"We think we are good to go but the problem has been that the government hasn't come out and told us what the best practice is.

"We all want a structure in place so we can follow it. Businesses want to keep their staff and customers safe."

Image source, Bridge Books
Image caption,
Bridge Books started a book delivery service just before lockdown

Lesley Price is hoping to reopen her bookstore in Dromore, County Down, on Monday.

She is having a screen fitted around the till and says there will be a limit of two customers in the shop at any one time.

Hand sanitiser and gloves will be provided and surfaces will be wiped after they have been touched, books included.

"I am looking forward to it - I've had a long time off - but I think if everyone was opening up in Dromore it would feel more exciting but unfortunately there are only a few of us," she told BBC News NI.

"The footfall is very small without hairdressers, opticians, beauticians and those type of businesses back up and running."

Public confidence

Aodhán Connolly, from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said it was important the public had confidence to return to the high street.

"This is a big boost to the economy as it is not just retail that benefits but their supply chains and the services they rely on," he told BBC News NI.

"There needs to be a joined up approach from all levels of government on how we get people to and through towns.

Image caption,
Aodhán Connolly is director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium

"We need to avoid frictions of queuing and pedestrian movement and that will take co-ordination.

"Most of all we need our towns and cities to have clear signage and direction, to not only be safe but to look safe."

Brenda O'Dowell, who owns a ladies' boutique in Omagh, County Tyrone, said she had been working in recent weeks to get measures in place for reopening and plans to reopen on reduced hours for childcare reasons.

"There is no specific guidance for clothing retailers from the assembly, we are second guessing from guidelines that have been issued in England in and in the south," she told BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster programme.

"Are we allowed changing rooms, how many people are allowed in store, do we have to quarantine our clothes if somebody tries them on?"

Ready to pop the question?

A jewellery shop owner in Londonderry said he has had no guidance about reopening.

Nigel Sproule's store remains closed for general browsing but is open for private appointments.

Image caption,
A jewellery shop owner in Londonderry said he has had no guidance about reopening

Customers can try on pieces of jewellery but all staff must wear visors and gloves, and hand sanitising stations have been set up.

The Department for the Economy said The Working Through This Together guide, initially published in April, "sets out principles and practical steps for employers and employees to keep themselves and their workplaces safe".

"There are a large number and wide variety of businesses and an assessment of each business is inevitably fact-specific.

"It is, therefore, for each business, in light of its own legal advice, to determine whether it can operate in accordance with the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 and the guidance produced."