Retail and hospitality in England open extra hours before lockdown
Retailers, hairdressers and restaurants in England have said they are extending opening hours and seeing their strongest bookings in months, as Thursday’s lockdown looms.
Gary Grant, the chairman of toyshop chain The Entertainer, said shoppers were “clearing the shelves like it’s Christmas Eve” with sales on Monday double that of the equivalent day last year.
The chain is extending opening hours until 7pm or 8pm from 5.30pm as it expects strong trading to continue right up until Wednesday night. From Thursday, nonessential retail in England will close for a month, along with gyms, cinemas, hospitality venues and places of worship.
Dixons, the owner of PC World, Currys and Carphone Warehouse, and some branches of bookseller Waterstones are also extending opening hours ahead of four weeks of closure in what would normally be a peak trading period.
Queues formed outside Primark in some cities over the weekend as the chain, which does not sell online, prepared to close its doors on Thursday.
Across England there was a near 9% rise in shopper numbers compared with the previous week. However, the number of high street visitors is still well down on last year, including 45% down in central London.
Jace Tyrrell, the chief executive of the New West End Company trade body for London retailers, described the scene as a “mini rush”.
“It’s been one of the best Sundays since we reopened,” he said. “I think people want to get some shopping done as they are not certain shops are going to reopen in December.”
Hairdressers around the country were also busy. Regis, which owns 56 hair salons, said bookings were up 30% since the lockdown announcement on Saturday and the 60-strong Saks hairdressing chain said it had extended opening hours to include Sunday, early mornings and late evenings to cope with demand.
Janet King, the head of marketing at Saks, said: “Phones are ringing off the hook and our online booking app has struggled a little with the volume of traffic.”
Darren Messias, the managing director of KH Hair Salons, said its 20 salons in the Midlands would be doing a week’s appointments in three days by bringing in extra staff and opening late in some cases as clients booked in for emergency dyes and trims.
“The fear is that the government might extend the lockdown. People are panicking about getting their colours done for Christmas,” he said.
Pubs were also expecting a late rush. Peter Borg-Neal, the chief executive of Oakman Inns, said its 28 pubs were fully booked through to Wednesday night, from when the group will only be able to sell takeaway meals.
He said the group was hoping to sell as much beer as possible before the lockdown as pubs will not be able to sell takeaway alcohol from Thursday as they were allowed to do in the spring lockdown.
“We will have a big lump of stock left over. Probably 200 pints per pub. Why don’t they at least let us try to make some form of living. Why do they always favour the supermarkets?” Borg-Neal said.
Restaurants also reported a surge in bookings. Gaucho said it had taken 8,000 bookings for its steakhouses on Sunday, four times its usual number, while Rick Stein Group said its bookings on Sunday were up by 25% week on week.
Ben Tish, the culinary director of hotel and restaurant owner The Stafford Collection, said its Norma restaurant in central London was fully booked for evenings until Thursday with minimal space at lunches. “People absolutely want their last hurrah,” he said.
Many galleries, museums and arts venues also reported a rise in inquiries from those wanting a last minute cultural hit.
The Wigmore Hall in London, for example, experienced a flood of phone calls about coming to what is the final performance in its series to socially distanced audiences.
“People are desperate to get in,” said the artistic director, John Gilhooly, “but unfortunately they can’t because we’re sold out.”
Instead, they can watch the free live stream of a grimly appropriate last performance: Schubert’s Winterreise (Winter Journey), a downbeat song cycle about entering the abyss. “Hopefully that’s not where we’re heading,” said Gilhooly.
All the business owners said the short-term surge in trade would not offset a difficult year with the latest four-week shutdown a further blow after at least three months of closure from March.
“This year is going to be shocking,” said Messias at KH. “Everybody is in the same boat. The high street is being absolutely murdered. It is very, very tough.”