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How Lowestoft’s independent stores are ready to reopen

PUBLISHED: 06:30 12 June 2020 | UPDATED: 11:17 12 June 2020

Claire Ringer, volunteer at Alfie's Community ARK, trading outside the store on London Road South, Lowestoft. PHOTO: Reece Hanson

Claire Ringer, volunteer at Alfie's Community ARK, trading outside the store on London Road South, Lowestoft. PHOTO: Reece Hanson

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With shops big and small preparing to return to high streets on Monday, two independent stores in Lowestoft have beaten the rush in a bid to survive and support their community.

London Road South, in Lowestoft, during the Coronavirus lockdown. PHOTO: Reece HansonLondon Road South, in Lowestoft, during the Coronavirus lockdown. PHOTO: Reece Hanson

Empty stores, some boarded up, others eagerly waiting for customers, run from the top of High Street to the bottom of London Road South in the town, with the occasional newsagent and grocery store welcoming customers queuing two metres apart outside.

Yet just a throw away from Lowestoft’s south beach, usually thriving in the early summer sun, two London Road South stores have taken to the street to sell their wares.

Claire Ringer, a volunteer at Alfie’s Community ARK, said: “We have been open since Monday, June 1 because we can open outside so we’re the same as a market stall.

“It works for us because we can easily pop inside to bring something out if a customer is asking for it.

Susan Banyard, manager at the Pink and Blue Charitable Organisation on London Road South, Lowestoft. PHOTO: Reece HansonSusan Banyard, manager at the Pink and Blue Charitable Organisation on London Road South, Lowestoft. PHOTO: Reece Hanson

“We support families with ADHD, autism and mental health issues with ARK standing for Acts of Random Kindness, so it was very important for us to be able to open as quickly as possible.

“We have got to somehow find a way to pay the rent, electricity and insurance, even though we have been closed for weeks.”

Just doors away, Pink and Blue Charitable Organisation manager Susan Banyard sits outside her store surrounded by tables of stock.

With outdoor market stalls being given the green light to reopen earlier this month, the two London Road South stores began marking out social distancing lines in chalk on the pavement outside.

London Road North, in Lowestoft, on June 3, 2020. PHOTO: Reece HansonLondon Road North, in Lowestoft, on June 3, 2020. PHOTO: Reece Hanson

She said: “We still have to pay rent and bills and that’s really hard when we cannot open the shop.

“I’ve been paying for it out of my own pocket.

“It’s very important for us to be able to open outdoors, but it will be a big relief when we can open the shop fully.

“I talk to a lot of people around the area and just having a chat with someone or knowing there is someone there to talk to is great for everyone’s mental health.”

Denise Gilbert, owner of PJ Gillman Jewellers on London Road North, Lowestoft. PHOTO: Denise GilbertDenise Gilbert, owner of PJ Gillman Jewellers on London Road North, Lowestoft. PHOTO: Denise Gilbert

The latest easing of the lockdown measures will see all retail shops allowed to reopen, providing adequate safety measures are in place, including two metres social distancing.

PJ Gillman Jewellers, on London Road North, have asked customers to shop alone where possible and to use the offered hand sanitiser on arrival, while cleaning the till point and card machine after every use and closing at 4.30pm to ensure thorough cleaning of the shop.

Owner Denise Gilbert said: “I have done a 34 page risk assessment, there are floor markings, signs and screens, so we have had a lot to get ready.

“It has been a quiet and weird few weeks. We haven’t been doing anything with the shop, so it has been very strange.”

High Street, in Lowestoft, during the Coronavirus lockdown. PHOTO: Reece HansonHigh Street, in Lowestoft, during the Coronavirus lockdown. PHOTO: Reece Hanson

The independent store is Lowestoft’s longest established jewellers, established in 1921, but their doors have been closed since May 23 in line with government guidelines for retailers.

Mrs Gilbert said: “These last couple of months have been tough, and I am worried about the summer because we do get a lot of holidaymakers and they might not be coming.

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“The furlough scheme has been a help to pay wages for my three staff members, but from next week we’ll be paying that too.”

Ahead of the reopenings, Lowestoft Vision, the town’s Business Improvement District (BID), introduced a package of support to help retailers and other businesses prepare for June 15.

The hub, available on the Lowestoft Vision website, provides businesses with template signage to print out and display to help with two metre social distancing measures, including entrance and exit information and directional signs to help manage the flow of customers.

Amie Mullen, Lowestoft Vision’s BID Manager: “Lowestoft Vision is here to support businesses and shops in our town centre during these unprecedented times.

“Following the recent announcement from the government we quickly put together a package of support to help our local retailers.

“This builds on the work we have already undertaken to support businesses as we work to help our local high street during these first stages of recovery and beyond, providing them with a ‘one stop shop’ so they can focus on preparing to reopen as and when it is safe for them to do so.”

Why we are asking readers to Love Local

The high street provides the heartbeat of our community.

It is the place where we see friendly faces, and feel the energy of other people around us. It’s an energy many of us have missed during lockdown.

But when we think about our relationship with the high street, we often think about us supporting them – by spending our money there, and being loyal customers.

By what about how the high street of Lowestoft has supported us?

It’s made a place for us to meet friends, have coffee, share lunch, and a convenient place to pick up essentials and treats alike.

Independent traders have for years taken financial risks, and battled the ups and downs of a volatile retail sector.

This terrible coronavirus has hit us all in so many ways.

For these businesses, who have given so much to towns, it’s put them on a knife edge.

That’s why the Journal is calling on all readers to think independent, and Love Local.

It’s a simple plea – next time you head to the shops, try and support an independent trader.

They need you now, more than ever.

Andrew Fitchett, editor


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