Coronavirus: Retailers ‘need to know when they can reopen’

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Shops in England can reopen on 15 June

Non-essential retailers are calling for a firm date for when they can reopen their stores in Wales.

Shops in England can reopen on 15 June but the Welsh Government will not update its advice until 18 June.

The Welsh Retail Consortium is calling for more certainty from ministers in Wales.

The Welsh Government has urged businesses to prepare for reopening ahead of the update by putting the necessary safety measures in place.

Currently, only essential shops, petrol stations and garden centres can open in Wales “provided the two-metre social distancing rules can be applied”.

So what are some shops doing to prepare for reopening?

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Debenhams has suggested some stores in Wales might not reopen in a row over business rates

This would normally be a busy time for summer trading at Debenhams in Carmarthen.

Instead it is putting safety measures in place, including plastic shields at the tills, social distancing signs, hand sanitisers, and staff will wear plastic visors.

Certain areas of the store, including the restaurant and changing rooms, will not reopen when the rest of the shop does.

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Debenhams staff in Carmarthen are “well prepared and very excited” to reopen, says store manager Janet Maguire

“We’re well prepared, and very excited to open and have customers come through the door again,” said Janet Maguire, store manager.

“I think that’s what we’ve missed, and the interaction, so myself and staff and colleagues are all ready to come back.”

Debenhams has said most of its stores in Wales might permanently close after a dispute with the Welsh Government over larger shops paying business rates during the coronavirus outbreak.

It has written to Welsh Government’s Finance Minister Rebecca Evans asking her to give permission for an online tribunal to review the decision not to extend business rate relief to properties with a rateable value of more than £500,000.

In the meantime, its five main stores in Wales – in Cardiff, Swansea, Newport, Wrexham and Llandudno – are set to reopen.

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The Welsh Government should provide businesses with an “indicative” date to reopen non-essential businesses, says Sara Jones, head of the Welsh Retail Consortium

The head of the Welsh Retail Consortium, Sara Jones, has called on Welsh ministers to give more details about their plans.

“We need to know if the R number is low enough, if health guidance allows it, that we have an indicative date to work towards,” she said.

“That is what we have in England. That is something we need in Wales to provide some level of certainty to our members.”

Retailing is a major industry in Wales – the sector employs 190,000 people and contributes £6.2bn a year to the Welsh economy.

That is 9.5% of the value of goods and services produced by businesses.

How are independent shops coping?

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Paul Thomas, owner of a comic and games shop in Merthyr Tydfil, is calling for clearer safety guidance

As with many other retailers, comic and games shop A Better World, in Merthyr Tydfil, has seen a big increase in its online orders since lockdown.

That has kept the business going – but has not covered its losses.

The owner of the independent family firm, Paul Thomas, said he understood why ministers could not give a date for opening now, but he would like some more information as he gets the shop ready for customers again.

“It is very vague when you go on the Welsh Government website about how many people would fit into the shop,” Mr Thomas said.

“All it says is find out how many will fit in with social distancing, and bear in mind areas where people will have to pass each other.

“It would be nice to be a little clearer on that. It is something we can work out and we will work out.”

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Mr Thomas says some of the Welsh Government guidance was helpful

Mr Thomas said other parts of the guidance were helpful and he has already put some measures in place.

But research in April showed UK consumers were wary of returning to places like pubs, restaurants and coffee shops even if the government said they could.

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