Independent shops ask for patience over masks as July 19 looms
- Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021
Independent businesses are gearing up for a surge in footfall come "freedom day" — but are asking for patience when it comes to the dreaded question of face coverings.
Norwich Lanes were buzzing on Friday, as the weather finally started to resemble summer.
And from Monday — when work from home guidance is officially scrapped, and restaurants and bars open without capacity limits — the number of people heading into the city will only rise.
Chris Smith, 39, who runs Christophe's Crepes on Pottergate, is "beyond excited" for the return to normality.
"We want shops to be open and for the city to be open," he said, "because that's when people come and visit us."
On the topic of masks, Mr Smith said it was "so difficult".
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"I personally can't wait to take mine off," he said. "For me, cooking behind a hot stove while having to wear a mask and my glasses for eight hours a day has been horrific.
"But whether I wear one or not will just depend on what other businesses do, and how comfortable my customers feel. It's really hard to make a decision until the time comes."
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Opposite the cafe is Head in the Clouds handicraft store, run by 22-year-old manager Amy Chaston.
"More and more people are coming in all the time, so that is really nice," she said. "But it's also very worrying.
"Staff here will still be wearing masks if they want. I think our stance will be to encourage customers to wear one for the sake of others, but if people choose not to and feel like that's an attack on their freedom, that's absolutely fine.
"We aren't going to make anyone feel like monsters if they don't want to wear their mask.
"The government has put small businesses like us in a tough position. We just hope people are respectful."
She added: "Head in the Clouds is a store where people come to escape from reality. It's like a big warm hug. We want people to feel comfortable here."
Ms Chaston said an eight-10 person limit would remain in force, as would the screens and sanitising stations.
David Hanton, 64, said at his clothing store Mod One staff would be maintaining social distancing, but letting people "make up their own mind about masks".
He said: "I personally won't be wearing one. They make it hard to communicate and constantly steam up my glasses."
But masks aside, Mr Hanton said he was thrilled for the city to open again on July 19.
""There's always a buzz about the Lanes and with summer coming it's getting busier all the time.
"Sales are up, and we're in a much better position now than we were this time last year."
Meanwhile Michael Nicholson, manager of Croppers on St Gregory's Alley, said the most important thing at his barber shop was "avoiding alienating people".
"I'm double jabbed, and I feel comfortable not wearing one," he said. "But if a client comes in with one on, we'll wear one too.
"It's a case of using our brains.
"I don't feel nervous because I've been out working in the city for months, but know those coming in from a long period of working from home are more apprehensive. We don't want to alienate them."
But the 49-year-old stressed he was "keen for normality" and "sick to death of lockdowns".
He said: "We've done the vaccine bit, and now it's time to get on with our lives. I'm really looking forward to Monday."
The manager of Norfolk Yarn, on the other hand, said the rules "wouldn't be changing" for her store.
Rebecca Bone, 55, said: "My customers are often elderly, and fearful about lifting restrictions.
"A lot of them say they feel assured by my policy to keep the masks in the store, so I'm doing this for them."
She said while trade had picked up when the country came out of lockdown in April, it had tailed off since.
"Hopefully I make a bit of money over the summer, and after that can hire another member of staff to help me start up my classes again come autumn.
"That's what I'm really looking forward to."