April 12: Businesses' joy at emerging from our third and final lockdown
- Credit: Georgia Barrow
The shutters have lifted and shoppers have returned to our high streets, as lockdown restrictions ease once again - and hopefully for the last time.
Despite the chilly weather, punters have booked tables at their favourite pubs and customers have returned to their favourite local shops again yesterday.
We spoke to business owners and excited shoppers in Letchworth and Baldock on the big day.
The Café Luna, Baldock
Café Luna welcomed customers to enjoy a coffee al fresco, bright and early on Monday morning.
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The newly-formed "coffee club", which meets a few times a week, were enjoying breakfast and a catch up as the high street began to open up.
North Herts District Councillor Michael Muir, who joined the club for a coffee, told the Comet: "It's great see businesses reopening, it's been a tough year and I understand some landlords have been easier on people than others.
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"If the government hadn't offered the support to businesses there would be many going bust.
"We should be sensible as COVID is still around. I am fearful that if we get another lockdown later in the year it will be disastrous for everyone."
Hollinton Health, Baldock
The Whitehorse Street sports therapy business has been able to offer injury support as an essential service, but were able to reopen "Wellness Therapy 4 U".
Owner Samantha Holland said: "In the first lockdown we had to close for three months, but after lobbying from Health Care Professions Council, businesses like ours were recognised as essential.
"I'm hoping there will be no more lockdowns."
"Staying positive has been hard. Twelve years of building up a business it shows how easily it can be lost."
Samantha's husband Carl sadly died last year following a cancer diagnosis. The business owner of 12 years had been organising a 5k run in the town for the last few years before the pandemic hit, in aid of Garden House Hospice Care - where Carl died.
"I need to keep going, I've got an opportunity to get on with things, rather than think about it all the time," Samantha continued.
"My husband was my back bone helping with the rat race and everything else.
The event is set to resume this year.
Tyler's of Baldock
Across the road at Tyler's of Baldock, owner Tyler Dungey was busy catching up with clients after a busy lockdown at home with his children.
His wife has been working on the COVID wards at Lister Hospital in Stevenage all through the pandemic.
To help keep up with clients online and help people maintain their lockdown locks, Tyler and his staff recorded videos on how to cut each other's hair.
"It just went off," Tyler said. "I had people in Germany contacting me. What was great was getting people booking who I've never met before.
"It was hard during lockdown. We've got four boys at home and my partner works at Lister on the COVID wards."
Tyler has been cutting hair in and around Baldock for 25 years.
"We've never had this starting and stopping again before, I've never been out of work."
The barbershop has recently unleashed a new app for clients to book their haircuts to prevent long queues and waiting times for customers, after previously being a 'walk-in' business.
Tyler's of Baldock will continue to offer a 10 per cent discount to all NHS staff. Tyler added: "I want to thank all the NHS staff. If it wasn't for them, we probably wouldn't be out enjoying our haircuts today."
Over in Letchworth, the town centre was filled with shoppers hoping to get their fix after months of click and collect and online shopping.
Just for Me, Letchworth
Maureen Davison, who owns Just for Me in Leys Avenue, was happy to see her regulars through the door.
During her time in lockdown, she converted the upstairs of the store into a homeware section.
"It's proved quite popular this morning," she said. "All my regulars have been popping in.
"I spend all my time talking to other people and having been here for so long - around 16 years - my customers are now my friends."
David's Bookshop, Letchworth
David's Bookshop was busy once again with customers browsing the shelves both inside and outside the Eastcheap store.
Managing director Kai Savage had been spending the day training three new members of staff and helping customers find what they were looking for, after operating a click and collect service.
He told the Comet: "The hardest moment was being told to close when there was about four days left until Christmas - it cost us about £50,000.
"One positive from it - we've done a huge amount of maintenance. Section moves, stock refresh. It's all been because we've had the time - we're usually open seven days a week."
The store's café is under a small refurbishment, and may be ready to reopen for the May 17 lockdown lifting - which will see hospitality businesses serve customers indoors.
David's moved into employee ownership last year, and Kai is planning to create a podcast and video content to continue the store's modernisation, while in-keeping with traditional in-store shopping.
The Arena Tavern, Letchworth
The Arena Tavern welcomed its loyal regulars back, having acquired an outdoor seating area with the help of the Letchworth BID.
The family-run pub in Arena Parade has had Savannah Joyce at the helm for the last 12 years, after taking over from her dad who ran it for three decades.
Although the pub will only be able to serve around 15 per cent of its usual full capacity for the time being, Savannah explained it's all about the customers.
She said: "We're excited to be reopening and have lots of our customers booked in already.
"We just want our customers to be able to come in and have a sense of normality again. It's all about them, because they are the ones that have supported us before and during all of this.
“The tavern has been run for 30 years as a family business, and our customers create our own little community. We are looking forward to seeing everyone again."
Finally, we managed to catch up with Crafty's owner, Ian Eddleman, as he was opening his brand new outdoor seating area in Leys Avenue.
He's been running a delivery service throughout lockdown, which he said "kept them going".
A very happy Chris Wall was served the first pint outside the beer shop.
Letchworth BID manager Chris Wilson said: "This is an important time to help support our town centre.
“Coronavirus has shown people the importance and the connection between shopping local and helping to support the local area.
"Many of our businesses have been a real lifeline for our community throughout the pandemic, so now we need to do our bit to ensure our shops and independent businesses can recover from this challenging time.
“Our independent businesses work really hard because they genuinely love what they do. The customer service that they offer and the way they run their businesses is done with a lot of heart, something you won't find online!
"Traders need your support now more than ever so please pay them a visit – it will be appreciated, I would encourage everyone to find out what is available on our doorstep and Shop Local, Shop Letchworth."