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, 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, 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, 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, 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.
What you can and can’t do in England’s new national Covid lockdown
New national restrictions are due to come into effect in England on Thursday, after MPs vote on them, and remain in place at least until 2 December.
What can I leave home for?
- For childcare or education, where it is not provided online.
- To go to work unless it can be done from home.
- Outdoor exercise either with household members or with one person from another household.
- For all medical reasons and appointments.
- To escape injury or harm, such as domestic abuse.
- To provide care for vulnerable people or volunteer.
- To shop for food and essentials.
- To see people in your support bubble.
- Children will still be able to move between homes if their parents are separated.
Government say the list is not exhaustive, and other permitted reasons for leaving home may be set out later. People could face fines from police for leaving their home without a legally permitted excuse.
Can different households mix indoors?
No, not unless they are part of an “exclusive” support bubble, which allows a single-person household to meet and socialise with another household.
Parents are allowed to form a childcare bubble with another household for the purposes of informal childcare, where the child is 13 or under.
Can different households mix outdoors?
People are allowed to meet one person from another household socially and for exercise in outdoor public spaces, which does not include private gardens.
Can I attend funerals, weddings or religious services?
Up to 30 people will still be allowed to attend funerals, while stone settings and ash scatterings can continue with up to 15 guests.
Weddings and civil partnership ceremonies are not permitted except in “exceptional circumstances”. Places of worship must remain closed except for voluntary services, individual prayer and other exempt activities.
Can I travel in the UK or abroad for a holiday?
Most outbound international travel will be banned. There is no exemption for staying away from home for a holiday. This means people cannot travel internationally or within the UK, unless for work, education or other legally permitted exemptions.
Which businesses will close?
Everything except essential shops and education settings, which include nurseries, schools and universities, will close.
Entertainment venues will also have to close. Pubs, restaurants and indoor and outdoor leisure facilities will have to close their doors once more.
However, takeaway and delivery services will still be allowed, while construction and manufacturing will stay open.
Parents will still be able to access registered childcare and other childcare activities where reasonably necessary to enable parents to work. Some youth services may be able to continue, such as one-to-one youth work, but most youth clubs will need to close their doors.
Public services, such as jobcentres, courts, and civil registration offices will remain open.
There is no exemption for grassroots organised team sports. Elite sports will be allowed to continue behind closed doors as currently, including Premier League football matches.
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 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 shut down 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.”