How some of our businesses are feeling about Plan B restrictions lifting

Churchyard, Hitchin. Picture: Danny Loo

Churchyard, Hitchin. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant

The lifting of 'Plan B' restrictions, including mandatory mask wearing, has been met with mixed reviews in our area - but what do our public-facing businesses think?

The past two years have been turbulent for local stores across Stevenage and North Herts, with a number of forced closures, social distancing and appeasing anxieties felt by shoppers in the midst of a deadly virus. 

An end to existing restrictions - namely, mandatory face coverings and instructions to work from home - will be welcomed by some, while others believe caution should still be taken.

Next Page Books, an independent children's bookshop in Hitchin, said staff will continue to wear masks but they will allow customers to make their own decisions.

Next Page Books in Hitchin

Next Page Books in Hitchin has adapted its rules on wearing masks in the shop - Credit: Next Page Books

Owners Liz Tye and Julie Anderson said: "Despite only being open since September, the rule changes are becoming very familiar already!

"We have changed our signage to be 'masks preferred' rather than 'masks required', however we will be keeping our masks on to protect our customers, our families and ourselves.

The inside of Next Page Books in Hitchin

Next Page Books in Hitchin has adapted its rules on wearing masks in the shop - Credit: Next Page Books

"We recognise that our customers now have a choice about mask-wearing and we respect that. They also have a choice about where to buy their books and we are so pleased to say that even with the chaos of COVID, so many of our customers make it their mission to shop local."

Next Page Books owners Liz Tye and Julie Anderson with the Gruffalo at their store opening on September 25, 2021 in Hitchin

Liz Tye and Julie Anderson, from Next Page Books - Credit: Danny Loo

They added that the shop is spacious and airy, and for those who do not wish to venture into the town centre they offer free delivery within Hitchin on orders placed via email at nextpagebooks@outlook.com, and can post further afield for a small fee, as well as selling books on their website.

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Hitchin town centre Business Improvement District manager Tom Hardy told the Comet: "The businesses of Hitchin have been operating under some form of restrictions for such a long time now. Although the lifting of the Plan B measures have been welcomed by the town centre, very little will change in the way of encouragement to following transmission reducing measures.

"People are now very aware of the virus and are now taking their own precautions based on their own personal preference. Most businesses in Hitchin town centre will continue to provide hand sanitizer, screen, and encourage the wearing of mask much like the summer of last year.

"Hitchin BID are continuing to provide PPE from the Information Centre, outdoor hand sanitiser units and take extra measure when running events in the town centre. We are hopeful that this year with the Platinum Jubilee and lots of exciting new events in the town the public will turn out and support our businesses."

Jo Sorrell and her employees will continue to wear masks 

Jo Sorrell and her employees at Cardies in Stevenage will continue to wear masks - Credit: Jo Sorrell

Owner of Cardies in Stevenage's High Street, Jo Sorrell, said they will even serve people outdoors if they were too uncomfortable to come indoors. 

"Here at Cardies we will continue to wear our masks for the time being," she said.

"We feel that some of our customers are still more comfortable with this. We will also continue with keeping antibac available and if necessary making adjustments for individual customers as they require - for example, some still prefer for us to serve them outside.

"We have heard of many of our customers are now working from home and many are saying this will still continue for them but perhaps on a mixed basis. Going to the office perhaps on a need to do so basis or once a week.

"People often tell us that they prefer to shop local and small and aren't using the larger shopping centres as much."

Cllr Sharon Taylor, OBE, leader of Stevenage Borough Council said: “It’s been a tough couple of years not only for our High Streets in Stevenage, but also for our residents who adjusted their lives as we all faced the challenges of the pandemic.

"Now that Stevenage has a lower than average coronavirus case rate and over 45,000 residents have been boosted, we should cautiously start getting back to normal and enjoy browsing the shops restriction free once again.

"I know and trust the people of Stevenage will remain considerate to those most vulnerable to the virus, and the town’s shops will continue to make sure their shopping environment is as clean and safe as possible for everyone.

"We have so many independent retailers, from unique stalls in the indoor market to small boutiques in Old Town. These retailers need our support more than ever because they suffered greatly through lockdown.

“We are working with the town’s retailers to make sure everyone feels safe and happy while supporting our local economy."

Are you a business owner? Let us know how you'll be responding to Plan B lifting at news@thecomet.net.