Shopping in the UK’s most famous retail area has been described as a “wonderful freedom” as non-essential stores welcomed customers for the first time in three months.
Eager shoppers queued outside retailers in London’s West End, which is expected to see around 80% fewer visitors than usual due to an absence of tourists and office workers.
Safety measures in Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street include hand sanitiser stations on street corners and queues mapped out using stickers on the ground.
While pavements have also been extended, the boss of a body representing hundreds of businesses in the area said social distancing measures needed to be “loosened” to prevent thousands of job losses.
There were queues outside the Apple store in Regent Street – where customers had their temperature checked before entering – as retailers in England reopened on Monday.
Bottled water was offered to those in the line for Selfridges, while a singer entertained customers at the store’s entrance on Duke Street.
Hannah Mann, from north London, who bought mascara and sun cream from the department store, said it was a “wonderful freedom” following months of closures.
“I love shopping so I just thought well, I’ll come out to get a few things that I wanted,” she told the PA news agency.
“I thought all the shops were going to be open today, so I was a bit disappointed when I got here, but this is a wonderful freedom because we are so limited to the places we can go.”
As non-essential shops start opening from today, we've been busy installing temporary barriers and signage to widen pavements in #OxfordStreet, #RegentStreet and #Piccadilly to encourage social distancing and safer movement around #Westminster@newwestend https://t.co/FDXTON5awK— Westminster Council (@CityWestminster) June 15, 2020
Jace Tyrrell, chief executive at New West End Company, a partnership of 600 retail, restaurant, hotel and property owners, said there had been an “easing in” of shoppers on Monday morning.
“The businesses that have opened have a nice customer trade coming in, people are queueing, which is very good,” he told PA.
“Of course it is day one and we’ve got quite a few months of this ahead of us.”
He raised concerns about the effects of the two-metre rule on the reopening of restaurants and bars, warning that up to 50,000 jobs could be lost if the rule stays in place.
“We are going to have to loosen some of that social distancing to make sure these businesses can survive, and of course those jobs that are financially important to London’s economy,” he said.
“There’s no doubt this year will be one of the most challenging ever we have experienced in retail in the West End.
“If we don’t address social distancing and the international quarantine, we could easily see over 50,000 job losses here in the West End alone.
“We could lose about £5 billion in sales, so of course it is going to be a long recovery.”
Hand sanitisation points have been stationed on streets in the area, including outside Nike Town at Oxford Circus, which saw a large crowd ahead of the store’s opening at 11am.
Ricky Young, 38, said it felt like a return to some kind of normality.
Asked if he expected it to be busy, the plasterer told PA: “No, I actually thought people might have been sleeping or didn’t want to go out.
“But the doors are open again, it’s back to almost normal, back to business – but we just have to line up.”
Nearly a thousand dots on the ground mark out where to queue, while pavement sizes have almost doubled in Regent Street and parts of Oxford Street.
Although around 90% of West End retailers opened their doors on Monday, shoppers expressed disappointment that some shops remained closed.
Estate agent Kasia Ruta, 39, who joined a short queue for a Zara clothing store in Oxford Street, said: “I’m disappointed because John Lewis is not open.
“Essentials I usually buy online, but other things I prefer to see and touch – it’s part of the experience.”