15 June Shops reopen

“It’s Chiswick, innit?”

On the day lockdown lifts for non-essential shops, Barbara Chandler takes a stroll along the High Road

“Is the High Street busier than usual?” I asked the guy on the flower stall on the High Road.

“Of course it is!” he said cheerily, and possibly a little optimistically. “It’s Chiswick, innit?”

This was the big day, when “non-essential” shops would throw open their doors to eager shoppers starved of retail therapy for pushing three months. But we didn’t get a Primark stampede. People seemed wary and cautious, notwithstanding the PM’s exhortations to “shop with confidence.”

The High Road already had dismal stretches of closed facades before the pandemic and lockdown certainly hasn’t helped. All the charity shops – themselves not a healthy sign – are closed. Ours are rather upmarket and very busy, with well-curated windows, so this is sad – as is the pile of discarded clothes, books and tapes left on the pavement outside Cancer Research.

Images above: Flying Tiger; Oliver Bonas

Ah a queue! It’s outside Flying Tiger (did people want a small plastic gnome in a choice of three colours for £3?) monitored by a pleasant young man in a “Nice To See You Again” black tee, limiting customers to 13. Oliver Bonas, too, was open and as busy as a limit of five customers would permit – “be nice to each other and to our staff,” said a notice, perhaps expecting more of a feeding frenzy.

Paperchase was revving up for Father’s Day – “I think everyone’s very excited,” said the girl on the door, letting in just six at a time. Down the far end, Halfords is shut – and WH Smith looks as if it will never open again. There were signs of life in Ryman’s but the door was locked – their website says they are opening this week. Robert Dyas said it was their first day, with 15 customers at a time.

On the whole, the furnishing and design stores seemed more lively than the fashion boutiques, who are seriously hampered by restrictions on trying on garments. Whistles is closed but Jigsaw is open (sale: 50% off). Mint Velvet is “closed until further notice.” As is Joy. American Pie and Collection have windows crammed with sale stuff, with half-price Moschino.

On the home front, Interiors is open, as is Neptune (by appointment), the Futon Company and Adventures in Furniture. OaknWood has beguiling displays of flooring, including elegant wood samples outside.

Images above: Snappy Snaps; Bookcase

If they change the rules there will be a lot to unstick

Many services are up and running. Snappy Snaps (for photo printing and framing) was in full swing, with a small huddle outside. Is the length of the queue the new measure for a store’s success? Estate agents looked fairly lively, as did building societies. Dry cleaners were operating, and the popular “Cell Guru” has been fixing broken phone screens since last week.

The most “normal” shop was Bookcase with its tables of bargains bravely on the pavement as usual – though inside it’s one way, with social distancing markers. Waterstones is open with a list of regulations – when you’ve looked at a book, you put it on the quarantine trolley.

Images above: Waterstones window; books on display outside Bookcase; Waterstones spacing sticker

And everywhere the markers of varying sophistication on the pavement – from basic silver tape to posher printed logos. Even by the cash machines … and outside the church of Our Lady of Grace and St Edward, open now for private prayer. If they suddenly reduce the regs to one metre, there’ll be an awful lot to unstick.

A whopping 72 per cent of shoppers are not happy returning to the shops, according to a survey by the shopping site OnBuy.com. Mind you, being an on-line operator, they could be biased. Shoppers were most concerned about fashion stores – 75 per cent said a visit would make them uncomfortable. And 64 per cent intended to wait over a month before returning to non-essential shops at all.

Images above: Interiors; People queuing for cash machines

Barbara Chandler writes for the Evening Standard Homes & Property section.

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