'See you on the other side': bustling Ipswich braces for England's lockdown

The streets of Ipswich were filled with last-minute shoppers on Wednesday, as hairdressers, pubs and non-essential retailers braced themselves for a new lockdown.

At least the imminent month-long closure of hair salons across England had brought a surge in business for Nick Circelli, owner of Adam and Eve barbers in the centre of the Suffolk town.

“It’s been mad, crazy over the past few days,” he said. “We’ve been cutting hair until about 10pm.”

William Coe, owner of Coes department store, decorating a Christmas tree with a colleague.
William Coe, owner of Coes department store, decorating a Christmas tree with a colleague. Photograph: Si Barber/The Guardian

Circelli said demand for appointments surged on Saturday, when Boris Johnson said he was ordering the four-week closure of all non-essential shops in England – as well as hospitality venues and leisure facilities – from Thursday until 2 December. As a result Circelli extended his opening hours, taking advantage of a brief buzz of activity before a month of silence.

But not all Ipswich business owners have been able to bring forward some of their November trade.

“You couldn’t have chosen a worse time of year,” said William Coe, managing director of retailer Coes, which owns six stores in the region including the Ipswich department store opened by his grandfather in 1928.

The lockdown coincides with the beginning of the crucial Christmas trading season for retailers like Coes, after an already bruising year which has see him forced to make 25 people redundant, representing 15% of his workforce.

“When we reopened in the summer it took time for confidence to return. My worry is that with only three weeks until Christmas, it will have to come back really quickly.”

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The company sells clothing, sportswear and gifts online, but Coe doesn’t believe internet orders will replace lost in-store sales.

“We did £1m in sales last year over the four weeks we’ll be closed,” said Coe. “We will be lucky to do 15-20% of that. If you miss periods of trade, you do not catch it up.”

Coe called the reimposition of an England-wide lockdown unfair given the relatively low coronavirus infection rates in Suffolk, with 67 cases per 100,000 people in the week to 31 October.

Cases have been rising in recent weeks in Ipswich and other parts of the county, but Suffolk had previously been in tier 1, the lowest level of restrictions, which still permitted groups of up to six people to socialise indoors.

However, a senior local politician backed the lockdown move. “I understand it may feel unfair to some businesses, but we do have many more infections now than we had a few weeks ago,” said David Ellesmere, leader of Ipswich borough council.

Like many in his party, the Labour politician had advocated an earlier, shorter “circuit breaker” lockdown.

Ipswich town centre was bustling on Wednesday, as shoppers ran last-minute errands, some queuing to get into bank branches or major chain retailers such as Primark and Boots.

Mandy Errington, owner of DJV Boutique.
Mandy Errington, owner of DJV Boutique. Photograph: Si Barber/The Guardian

Friends Jane Codd and Jan Laws, each carrying several shopping bags, had come into town to buy some Christmas presents.

“I like to shop in stores to give them support,” said Codd, who had purchased festive decorations.

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Mandy Errington said her fashion shop DJV Boutique would usually be a “glitter ball” at this time of year, including “beautiful red dresses for Christmas parties”.

However, Errington has ordered fewer items this year to avoid being saddled with more clothing and accessories than she can sell.

“I thought we might be heading this way, so I kept my stock levels realistic,” she said.

Errington is hoping to salvage some trade during the next month with online orders and by offering free local delivery.

The Greyhound pub was fully booked for lunch and dinner on Wednesday, as small groups of friends met up for a last hurrah before lockdown.

“See you on the other side,” one customer called out to staff as he left the pub.

“Luckily we were able to cancel our Monday order from the brewery,” said landlord Dan Lightfoot. “It is frustrating.”

The pub had grown sales since reopening in July, by repurposing its car park and installing tables to create an outdoor drinking and dining area.

Lightfoot was pleased the government has reversed its decision to ban all takeaway alcohol sales, permitting them to sell pre-ordered alcohol.

“We’ll go into hibernation for four weeks, with a bit of takeaway food to keep us going,” Lightfoot said, “We just hope it will only be for one month.”


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