‘Devastated’ retailer fears shops won’t make it to reopening date

PLANS to keep non-essential shops closed until April have “devastated” a York retailer who fears many struggling shops won’t survive.

Boris Johnson outlined four stages for lifting all restrictions by June 21 at the earliest, saying he hoped it would be a “one-way road to freedom”, made possible by the pace of the vaccination programme.

His exit strategy would see non-essential shops, hairdressers, nail salons, libraries, outdoor attractions and outdoor hospitality venues such as beer gardens reopen from April 12 at the earliest.

From May 17, pubs and restaurants will be able to open indoors, as well as children’s indoor play area hotels, B&Bs, theatres and concert halls.

“I’m devastated, to be honest,” said Phil Pinder, head of York Retail Forum, who had expected shops to be able to open sooner.

He also said the five-week delay until restrictions for hospitality are lifted would also hit retailers’ profits at a time when shops could potentially lose Government support.

Businesses receive a Government grant for being closed, salary support for furloughed staff and business rates relief which are due to end soon.

Phil said that in 2020, trade was about 70 per cent down on 2019 for June to July because hospitality venues had been shut. “If people aren’t going to come out because nothing else is open, and if we trade like we did last year, it’s not worthwhile being open.”

He added: “In the last 15 months retail businesses will have been closed for more months than they’ve been open, and it’s worse for hospitality. People are already running out of money and unless next week’s budget comes with something very special, then I don’t think many will make it to the dates they can reopen.”

The news for pubs came after York licensee Paul Crossman warned that publicans were facing a financial and mental health crisis following the uncertainty over reopening and “inadequate support”.

Paul chairs the national Campaign for Pubs group which is urging the Government to protect the welfare of individuals and families running community pubs, as some face bankruptcy. The group wants to see adequate support until pubs can open normally following months of closure and lost trade with mounting costs and debts.

Paul said the uncertainty had been “extremely hard” on publicans whose businesses were also their home. “These people do not have the reserves of large organisations to fall back on, and many have continued to face significant financial demands from big business landlords and suppliers while being unable to trade. The Government must take steps to protect the welfare of those working in these businesses.”

Andrew Digwood, York & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said the news had given greater certainty and clarity to enable businesses to plan and warned against further “cliff edges”.

“We must see no more last- minute changes of plan,” he said. “Now we’ve got some idea of timescales, businesses will be looking for similar clarity from the chancellor in his budget.”

He called for financial support to continue and be commensurate with the ongoing restrictions, and to be targeted if necessary. It should also include supply chain businesses to the public-facing sectors, he said.

York Press | News