Ashton Review of Shops Extra looks at the reopening of ‘non essential’ retailers
For some commentators, the 15 June 2020 would be seen as the day when normality returned to the High Street. With the reopening of ‘non essential’ retailers, it has been represented as part of our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Except it wasn’t.
The ‘normality’ is far from the normal of November 2019. Back then, the phrases ‘social distancing’, ‘self-isolation’ and ‘shielding’ hadn’t entered into daily conversation topics. We were thinking about what to buy for Christmas presents, yet December 2019 was one of the worst Christmases for retailers in recent times. We shopped online as normal. On Boxing Day, we still queued at Stupid O’Clock for The Next Sale. One or two of us were more bothered about Stalybridge Celtic’s clash against Hyde United after Christmas Day.
Then came 2020, a year which started with a virus that was seem as trifling. By our government, the severity of it was grossly underestimated. Some might say they are grossly underestimating COVID-19, thanks to the lockdown starting too late and, possibly, finishing too early.
Thanks in no small part to levels of deprivation, the North West and the South West of England are among the UK’s COVID-19 hotspots. In our region, Blackpool and our very own borough [Tameside] are the worst hit places. With Hyde, Wythenshawe and Chadderton having the highest COVID-19 death rates in Greater Manchester, our Metro Mayor, Andy Burnham is quite right to criticise HM Government’s recovery plan. A strategy that is tantamount to their original premise of Herd Immunity and “taking it on the chin”, which they have tried to disown.
All was going well with this social distancing business till our Prime Minister’s Special Advisor chose to test his eyesight by driving to Durham. Then Barnard Castle. Over 200 miles away from London. As a result, the PM’s authority was undermined, and our so-called government chose to revert to the original plan. One that could have led to 250,000 deaths, best case scenario (till they’ve ‘read the science’).
Thanks to one’s misreading of the science, the seeds were set for the end of social distancing using the two metre rule. Almost overnight, social distancing was seen by some people as a joke, as epitomised by recent mass gatherings. This could lead to a second wave of COVID-19, or the continuation of the first wave in some areas with a R [Reproduction] rate of 1 or above.
All of the above taking us towards events over the last week.
Shop For Victory, Queen and Country…
In the last week, queues outside drive-thru branches of McDonalds and IKEA made the headlines. This week, similar scenes were repeated outside Primark stores across the UK. In Tameside, there was massive queues at Crown Point North, many of which for Sports Direct, with a distinct lack of social distancing.
On the Bloomberg website, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “People should shop, and shop with confidence, but they should of course observe the rules on social distancing and do it as safely as possible.”
From my past experience over the last three months, we seem to be happy with queueing two metres apart before reaching the superstore. Once we are in the store, our adherence to the rule seems to slacken. Especially along the busiest aisles.
Most of the queues have been for major chain stores. The quest for £2.00 kecks could be put off for another few days. There is more to our retail landscape than the ‘usual suspects’.
Our government’s reasoning behind the “people should shop, and shop with confidence” quote could well be a last ditch attempt to salvage something from the UK’s dramatic slump. It is the fetishism as Shopping As A Form of Patriotism instead of need, personal enjoyment or self expression. Who on earth thinks “I’m backing Britain by purchasing a Bang and Olufsen stereo” despite having a decent Alba one in the lounge?
There are other ways where we can Shop For Victory. Ways where can support our local retailers. Now that our buses have returned to a near normal timetable, it is easier to do just that (so long as you remember to bring a face covering).
Shopping With Confidence, Tameside Style
With more shops opening across our borough, any notion of normal (whether The New Normal, Socialist Normal, Natural Law Normal, The Normal on Sunday, or pre-COVID-19 normal) is off limits for a year at least. Hairdressers and public houses wouldn’t be opening till July/August at the latest. In all honesty, ‘normal’ wouldn’t return till I see the ‘Bridge try to beat Atherton Collieries on a windy Tuesday in February.
If you wish to avoid the queues (and get some decent food in the process), Ashton-under-Lyne and Hyde Market Halls will happily take your custom. Social distancing measures will be in place, and the cafés will only be offering takeaway services. Nevertheless, Nat’s Bombay Kitchen and Wright’s Café Central are considerably better alternatives to the usual mass market options.
If you fancy a genuine alternative to the usual gamut of chain stores, Stalybridge should be your first port of call. Thankfully, the recent good weather (with more to come, give or take the odd thunderstorm) is conducive to butties al fresco. Instead of TESCO, you cannot miss The Tripe and Sandwich Shop – or Boult’s Butchers for takeout treats.
For non-food treats, Magpie’s Nest and Florence and Amelia’s will be more than happy to take your custom.
Instilling confidence in post-COVID-19 era shopping
Here’s our useful guide on how to make the shopping experience good for your fellow shoppers and retail staff.
- Wear a face covering in enclosed spaces (lifts or on public transport) and small shops. A face covering can either be a non-surgical mask or a scarf.
- Carry a small, pocket size bottle of hand sanitiser. Please place on hands before and after using public transport.
- If possible, pay by debit or credit card: since the start of the lockdown, you can make purchases up to £45.00 without entering your PIN number. This applies if you have a contactless credit or debit card.
- If you really need to buy non-food items from a chain store, consider making your purchase online, where facilities exist.
- Never expect to rush your way through the store or shop. Take your time.
At this time of writing, Tameside MBC has deferred the reopening of its open markets in Ashton-under-Lyne and Hyde till next Monday [22 June]. This decision was taken following the borough’s high COVID-19 R rate. It is expected that licensed premises would reopen by the 04 July at the earliest.
Any further developments will be recorded on East of the M60 under our Ashton Review of Shops posts. Our next monthly window on the Tameside shop windows will be out on the 04 July at 9.00 am (British Summer Time). Whatever you do, wherever you queue, stay safe.
In other news…
Tokies has completed a two-year sponsorship deal with Stalybridge Celtic Football Club. The popular takeaway on Mottram Road, which is one of three branches (the other two are based in Withington and Pontefract) has agreed to sponsoring a pitch side advertising board.
S.V., 15 June 2020.