Bedford’s shopkeepers and business owners are counting down the hours until they can welcome customers back once lockdown restrictions lift on Monday 12 April.
For the first time since 19 December, non-essential shops, hairdressers, barbershops and gyms are able to reopen next week and the excitement is palpable.
In addition, restaurants and pubs are permitted to serve customers in designated seating areas outside their premises.
Town centre improvements
Improvements to the town centre have been continuing during the latest phase of lockdown, with two projects nearing completion as customers return to the town.
Cllr Henry Vann said: “We’ve been working hard to make sure that Bedford Town Centre is in excellent condition for reopening when it can.
“This includes tackling minor repairs as well as delivering major public realm improvements to Midland Road and Silver Street Square, such as replacing previous paving with York stone and planting new trees in the area.”
The Allhallows improvements are expected to be completed by the end of the month.
Businesses are ‘chomping at the bit’
Some Bedford businesses had only just launched at the start of the pandemic, so the latest relaxation of the restrictions is particularly significant.
Beckie Fry, owner of Bridges Espresso Bar on Riverside Square, said: “We were only just getting into our stride when the first lockdown was imposed so we are chomping at the bit to get going again.
“We have been overwhelmed by local support for reopening on Monday and the first two Saturday evenings are already fully booked.
“We can’t wait to see our customers catching up with friends and family whilst enjoying what we have to offer.”
Other independent businesses told the Bedford Independent that they’d been overwhelmed with supportive messages from customers who can’t wait to come back into the town centre.
Jo Lawday, of Boutique Planet in the Old Arcade, said they were excited to welcome their customers back in store. “We can’t thank them enough for their support over the last year and it will be great to get back to some sense of normality.”
“It feels really positive,” said Emma Foley, whose shop, Anorak is opposite Boutique Planet in the Arcade.
“The shop is full of brand new stock and we’re really excited about seeing our customers again and giving them a proper shopping experience.”
Lots of businesses have praised the support they’ve received during lockdown, particularly restaurants that have relied on takeaways to keep their customers satisfied.
“We’ve had so much support during lockdown with our takeaways which are going to continue and we want to say a huge thanks to everyone and ask them to come and dine in-house as soon as they’re ready,” said Emma Stevens of the FatCap Smokehouse on Castle Lane.
“The whole team is so excited to finally be allowed to reopen the new heated terraces from next Wednesday.
“It’s been a long time coming and it won’t be quite the same, so wrap up warm as the evenings will be chilly & bring a blanket if you like. We guarantee we will make sure you’re well looked after.”
It’s not just Bedford’s independent businesses that can’t wait. Primark in the Harpur Centre will be opening at 8am in order to cope with the anticipated number of customers.
Samantha Laycock, manager of the Harpur Centre, said: “The store teams are excited to be back again, removing their Christmas windows and ready to show off their new Spring collections on Monday.
“We know many are eagerly awaiting our gym to reopen and have their hair in the hands of experts again so we are all looking forward to welcoming back visitors.”
For many, the countdown is on to the much-anticipated reopening of hairdressers and barbershops.
“Seeing the bookings flooding in after reopening the system made me very emotional,” said Cavalier Club Barbershop owner, Siobhan Moriarty-Jones.
“After a year of ups and downs, I can really see light at the end of the tunnel. Roll on 12 April and getting some soul back into the shop because we have really, really missed it.”
Hairdressers have been extremely busy in anticipation of the reopening, rescheduling hundreds of missed appointments and booking in new clients.
Kerry Cash, owner of 5th Avenue hair salon on Howard Street told the Bedford Independent that they are fully booked for the first six weeks after they reopen.
“We have the staff working in two teams so we can be flexible and open seven days a week with four late nights. Also if we need to isolate, it won’t affect the whole team,” she said.
“We’ve been working with Bedford College to help with work experience opportunities [and] are now training three students to assist one-to-one with the hairstylists.”
Students need to complete work experience hours to go towards their qualification and the 5th Avenue hairstylists have given their own time to show the students the ropes – including, said Kerry, the essential skill of how to make a ‘decent cup of tea.’
Support Bedford town centre
Cllr Henry Vann, portfolio holder for the town centre has the last word:
“We’re urging everyone to shop local and support the great independent and national chain stores that we have to offer in Bedford Borough.
“And if you do go out, remember to follow the ‘Hands, Face, Space, Fresh Air’ advice in order to help reduce the spread of Covid-19.”