Low-key resumption of retail as customers make cautious return to Belfast shops

Shutters were pulled up and tills rang once again as retail shopping resumed in Belfast city centre after the coronavirus lockdown.

There were no snaking queues or trolley dashes on Friday morning, as customers made a cautious return to outlets that have been closed since March.

The rain did not help.

Coronavirus – Fri Jun 12, 2020
Shoppers return to Belfast city centre (Brian Lawless/PA)

Those who did venture out were met with a new coronavirus reality.

Social distancing markers and one-way signs lined the covered streetscape of the popular Victoria Square complex.

Digital billboards urged customers to wear masks – advice only a minority of patrons appeared to heed.

Jane Tedford enjoys tea from her flask before donning a mask to go shopping in Belfast (David Young/PA)

Retired teacher Jane Tedford, one shopper who had brought a mask, was impressed with the infection control precautions in evidence.

She had packed a flask of tea on her trip from Greenisland, Co Antrim, knowing that cafes are still prevented from opening under Covid-19 restrictions.

Mrs Tedford has not been able to buy presents for her grandchildren for 10 weeks.

“I don’t shop online,” she explained.

“I prefer to actually shop properly – I am of that generation. It’s nice to talk to the assistants and find out the latest styles and all that sort of thing.”

Coronavirus – Fri Jun 12, 2020
A customer speaks with a member of staff behind a protective barrier in a store in Belfast (Brian Lawless/PA)

Across the city centre, Kieran Sloan, who runs the famous Sawers Deli, has been reliant on online orders to keep his business afloat for the past three months.

His doors were open once again on Friday.

“I was excited this morning and up really early,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the weather has gone against us and the town is still quite quiet, but we are here.

“We are a family-run business so we’ve been trying to keep this going and keep the lights on.”

Coronavirus – Fri Jun 12, 2020
David Maguire from Specsavers catches a delivery outside his store in Belfast (Brian Lawless/PA)

Specsavers has been partially open through the lockdown, but only to provide emergency care for people with eye problems.

Retail manager at the Belfast store David Maguire revealed that sales are down 85%. Most of his staff are still furloughed.

While the shop opened again to walk-in customers on Friday, eye tests are still prohibited – the mainstay of its business.

“It’s going to be a difficult time,” he said.

“But I suppose everybody is in it together, no businesses are different to any other.”

Coronavirus – Fri Jun 12, 2020
John Keenan, owner of Bogart Menswear in Belfast, using his measuring pod to measure George Armstrong (Brian Lawless/PA)

Around the corner at Bogart Menswear, John Keenan, a tailor of 40 years, was measuring customers by sticking his hands through into a new Perspex safety pod.

“We’re very relieved, it’s such a weight off our shoulders,” he said.

“We have the whole team in, we’re ready, the shop’s been sanitised upstairs, downstairs and everywhere you could think of and no customer should feel ill at ease coming into this shop.

“It’s been very hard. We have a staff of almost 20 and we have a lot of stock to move. It was all bought and paid for and delivered in January and February and then boom, the lights go out.

“But we still have a third of the season left and we’re optimistic.”

George Armstrong, from Carrickfergus, was on the other side of the pod screen, getting measured for a suit jacket.

“It’s as normal as they can make it,” he observed.

“It felt safe to me and I’m happy to be here.

“If we get out and help to get the retailers back on their feet, it’s going to be good for us all.”

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