Back in business: Retailers get the green light to reopen from Friday

The 'new normal': Staff in Debenhams adapt to new safety measures as the Belfast department store reopened to the public on Monday. Pictures by Hugh Russell.
Ryan McAleer

ALL retailers, apart from those based in shopping centres, have been given the green light to open across the north for the first time in almost three months on Friday.

Just hours after a restricted number of non-food retailers pulled up their shutters on Monday, Economy Minister Diane Dodds announced that all non-essential goods retailers could do the same at the end of this week.

Aside from indoor shopping centres, the Department for the Economy said the only caveat for retailers will be adherence to a number of safety measures.

The department confirmed there will be no restriction on size. 

Ms Dodds said that provided there is no spike in new Covid-19 cases, the Executive will officially sign off on the decision on Thursday.

Speaking at Debenhams’ Royal Avenue store, which reopened in Belfast yesterday, the minister said: “The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the local economy.

“The recovery has already begun and it is time now for the pace to accelerate. The re-opening of all goods retail outlets will be a huge part of this.”

Economy Minister Diane Dodds addressing the media outside Debenhams' Belfast store. Picture by Hugh Russell.

The move was warmly welcomed by retail and business groups last night, many of which had called on the Executive to follow the lead of the Irish Government over the weekend, and bring forward the date to reopen the retail and hospitality sectors.

Most retailers across the border were permitted to open yesterday, with hotels, restaurants and most pubs set to follow suit on June 29.

Hotels in Northern Ireland have already been told they can reopen on July 20, but bars and restaurants have yet to be given a date.

Chief executive of drinks body Hospitality Ulster, Colin Neill, said he was “extremely disappointed” last night, that the Executive failed to produce a reopening date for sector.

He said bars and restaurants urgently need to re-open to save thousands of jobs.

“The longer the lack of a re-opening date goes on, the more of a negative impact it will have,” he said.

First Minister Arlene Foster confirmed that the hospitality issue will be debated around the Executive table, when it meets on Thursday.

She said the issue of close contact retailers, including hair salons and barbers, would be considered at a future date.

'Here to help': Debenhams' staff welcome customers to the Belfast department store for the first time in over two months. Picture by Hugh Russell.

Glyn Roberts from Retail NI described yesterday’s decision as a major step forward for rebooting the economy.

He called for a new high street and retail group to help advise the Executive, and for the establishment of a fund to help cover the costs of implementing new safety measures.

“This will no doubt involve the repurposing and reimaging of public spaces to accommodate queuing customers as well as significant changes to public transport,” he said.

Aodhán Connolly of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said retailers had worked hard to prepare to reopen safely.

“We also look forward to the reopening of shopping centres when it is safe to do so. They have been doing all they can to open safely and must be able to trade soon.”

Chief executive of Derry Chamber, Paul Clancy, said: “It is excellent news that the Executive has agreed to mirror the Republic of Ireland’s accelerated reopening plan which was announced over the weekend.

“By not aligning our reopening timelines north and south, we seriously risked shops and businesses in Derry and the north west being unfairly disadvantaged over their counterparts in Donegal and beyond, and many local retailers will be relieved by today’s announcement."

Belfast Chamber chief executive, Simon Hamilton, said: “Belfast Chamber has been pressing the Executive to set a date for the safe reopening of the sector, so we wholeheartedly welcome today’s announcement as another huge step in the right direction and thank the Executive for listening to business.

“Many retailers have been working hard over the last number of weeks to get their stores ready to reopen in ways that ensure staff and customer safety and it is great that many more will be able to implement those plans and get going again.”

Roger Pollen from the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “Small businesses have been frustrated during lockdown to see larger businesses being able to continue to trade in products which they sell, while they were forbidden from opening.

“The Economy Minister’s announcement will be music to the ears of many business owners, who are eager to open the shutters and get back trading.”

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