It’s been almost two weeks since non-essential shops started to reopen. Here we speak to business owners in the town of Woodbridge to find out how they coped during lockdown and their plans for the future as business starts to return to a ‘new normal’.
Bradley Potter from Potters Estate Agents on Market Hill said that during lockdown they had to adapt considerably.
“To go from the way we used to do things to implementing social distancing has forced us to step into a completely new way of doing things,” he said. “While many businesses were cutting back, we actually invested during lockdown.
“We imported new 3D photo and video technology from the USA to replace speculative viewings with photo, video and 3D viewings online. This means that those who choose to visit one of our properties in person are in a proceedable position.
“I think the entire industry has changed. The days of spending a Saturday afternoon speculatively browsing a handful of properties are over. With the help of technology, every property viewing should hopefully have a real purpose. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for our sector.”
Suzanne Archer, owner of Christine’s Patisserie & Tea Rooms on The Thoroughfare said restaurants and cafés had been among the hardest hit by the pandemic but she had used the opportunity to re-assess and re-energise.
“We haven’t been able to trade at all,” she said. “Saying that, the government has been quite generous with what it’s given us so it hasn’t been horrific.
“We have re-evaluated, fixed some parts of the shop and our staff are enthusiastic about returning on the 4th July to our normal working hours.
“Our plans for the future are bold. We are expanding, moving into the shop next door where we’ll be selling my homemade chocolates and hopefully collaborating with other local shops!
“I think shoppers get a much better experience when they visit independent shops, and that they’re much more likely to find what they’re looking for rather than just looking at prices.”
Sue Turner, owner of Gallery East on Church Street said she hoped art may now hold greater meaning post-pandemic.
“Just as we were beginning to get going and build a loyal community of buyers (having survived Brexit!) we had to close,” she said. “But it’s given us a chance to create an online store on our website and do things differently.
“We’ve had to postpone our popular ‘Artist in Conversation’ events so we’ve tried to do the next best thing and showcase an artist in the windows of the gallery each week with a description of their work, techniques and inspiration. People have told us how much they’ve enjoyed seeing this.
“Choosing art is a personal and uplifting experience, something which now, more than ever, feels like a good investment.”
Natalia Brown runs Windmills Florist on Cumberland Street. Throughout lockdown, she has managed to keep the business afloat with deliveries concentrating on all-occasion bouquets, funeral and sympathy flowers.
“We’ve been open throughout for collection-only orders, as well as working very hard to provide funeral flowers in such difficult times,” she said. “I’m not sure what the future holds but I think things are going to be very different. This could prove to be a very positive thing however.
“People are choosing to shop locally at the moment and Woodbridge is offering shoppers a safe experience. They feel more comfortable to shop here than in larger towns and cities and shops here focus on providing a great service rather than just selling products, making people feel more positive about being out shopping in these strange times.”
Fiona Turner owner of Fiona’s Fabrics in Gobbitts Yard had to shut up shop in March but managed to keep an online presence.
“We have managed to take some orders, but our main focus has been on helping the community,” she said. “We’ve been involved in supplying elastic and fabric for scrubs and facemasks, which has kept us ticking over.
“Another way we have adapted is to provide sewing tutorials on YouTube. We usually run sewing classes in-store which we haven’t been able to do, nor do we think we will be able to do, for some time.
“The lockdown has probably made many people take a step back and look at their lives and how they spend their time, so there have been lots of people who are keen to try something new and give sewing a go. We’ve had lots of new customers that have joined our loyal base which is really promising.”
Martin Whitaker, owner of Browsers Bookshop on The Thoroughfare said he thought the lockdown would have a huge knock-on effect on tourism so the pressure was on for local people to support their local businesses.
“The pandemic and lockdown saw our sales drop by 87%,” he said. “We delivered and posted some books to customers and had around 420 orders of this kind, so we’re hugely grateful to our loyal customers as well as the new customers that sought us out.
“Our first week’s sales have been good and it has been great to see people again.
“Many people are still being very careful about going outside and while usually July, August and September are our busiest months outside of Christmas because of tourists, we are not expecting this to be as busy this year.
“I try to make a conscious decision to shop locally as I want my independent shops to survive and I hope other people do too.”