ALREADY battered by online competition, lockdown dealt Britain’s small traders a body blow.
But now that most are being allowed to reopen, a new nightmare is emerging which threatens to further devastate local shops– social distancing in the high street.
The bizarre situation is graphically illustrated in Shaftesbury, Dorset, the picture-postcard town where the famous Hovis bread TV advert – a 1920s baker’s delivery boy pushing his basket bike up the steep and cobbled Gold Hill – was filmed.
Its High Street is the main conduit, leading tourists to and from Gold Hill and Alfred the Great’s Shaftesbury Abbey ruins. Though open to traffic before and during lockdown, the great and the good on the town council decided with the end of lockdown it must now be closed – to space shoppers.
Never mind there are no such restrictions on the streets of London – or indeed 50 minutes drive away on the Dorset coast where, yesterday, in places you could hardly put a pin between the bodies.
Making the high street as inaccessible and unattractive as possible just as shops are due to reopen has left locals fuming. Sally Awdry took pen to paper to vent her spleen at the jobsworths at the town council:
‘I am not actually a Shaftesbury resident, but have lived locally for over 40 years and am writing this from a purely personal, but rational, perspective. I took this photo of Shaftesbury High Street yesterday and am utterly dismayed by it. Admittedly it was a gloomy day, but everything about this new pedestrianisation says, “Shaftesbury is closed, stay away”.
‘After 12 weeks of being unable to trade, with vast loss of revenue to the shopkeepers, the non-essential shops are now allowed to open, only to have this extraordinary restriction imposed on them.
‘At the best of times, high streets universally were struggling. But before the pandemic hit the country, Shaftesbury was making huge efforts to attract new, independent businesses to the town, to sit alongside the longstanding favourites, such as Hine & Parsons, Shirley Allum, Squires, Reeves, Mine, Allum and Sidaway, the Dorset Store, etc, which set it apart from other high streets, and was succeeding admirably.
‘The barriers at both ends of the High Street, Road Closed signs, uniformed marshals, white footprints and two-metre markers down the entire High Street give out a blatantly hostile message and rather resemble a police state. Surely we can at least decide for ourselves where we should walk!
‘You have removed dozens of car parking spaces and all forms of spontaneity, and without doubt, the overall message it gives out is that shoppers or visitors are not welcome, which presumably, is the opposite of the message you are trying to portray.
‘It must also be greatly compromising disabled people, which is not a generous idea, especially in these compassionate times. I wanted to take my 93-year-old father to Squires to buy him trousers, thus supporting a local business, rather than buying online, but there is no way he could walk there, so it is out of the question.
‘I’m sure there are plenty of residents who will relish the High Street being closed off, as they are able to wander aimlessly around in the middle of the road, but these are also the people who can go back to the comfort of their own homes, and probably secure pensions; they are not the retailers who are struggling to make a living, to make ends meet in these extraordinarily tough economic times. If these restrictions continue, there will be no shops to wander into. Is that really what you are trying to achieve?
‘I am not one of Shaftesbury’s retailers, nor have vested interest in any of the businesses, but just wish to see a thriving, vibrant small town. Once again, Tesco has come up trumps and had most of the custom handed to it on a plate, thereby encouraging online shopping for everything else, as that is the easier option. My heart goes out to Shaftesbury’s retailers, they must be worried sick.’