Doncaster town centre shops are preparing to re-open - but expect a different experience

It’s two months since Richard Smith was able to open up his shoe shop in Doncaster town centre.

By David Kessen
Friday, 29th May 2020, 4:59 pm
Updated Monday, 1st June 2020, 12:33 pm

He admits he has enjoyed parts of being away from running the store during lockdown – it has meant he has been able spend more time with his young son.

But now he is one of a legion of Doncaster shop owners who now are putting in place plans to re-open on June 15, the date set by the Government for non essential stores to re-open.

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Tiffany - Ladies fashion in Doncaster

Now the shops are making their own preparations.

Richard and wife Michelle run The Shoe Room, on Priory Walk. And they realise things will look very different to returning shoppers.

For the last two months, the business has got by on sales on internet sales, which it has seen rise 10-fold during the months of lockdown.

Richard has been furloughed, while Michelle continues to work on the online side of the operation.

Frenchgate Centre, Doncaster. Picture: NDFP-24-03-20 Donc Town 1-NMSY

“The business has kept going, but we are looking forward to getting back to the shop.

“I think people will still be nervous about coming into enclosed spaces. People may be keen to come and mooch around the town centre, but that’s different to coming into shops. But I’m keen to see some friendly faces again. Seeing the smile on someone’s face when they find the shoes they want it better than sending a box in the post.”

He has already started planning how the shop can be re-arranged to fit in with social distancing. He is moving seating away from the middle of the shop into corners so it can be several metres apart.

He is planning a hand sanitiser station at the door, and gloves and masks for those who want them.

Sue Hunt, assistant manager and Andy Stancliffe, Proprietor, pictured. Picture: NDFP-03-12-19-Hustings 6-NMSY

“We’re also looking at doing shopping by appointment,” he added. “We’ve done it in the past for people out of normal shop hours. But if it makes people feel safer for 30 minutes, we could do that.”

“We would really like to see people coming back to town.”

A few streets away, on Cleveland Street, Sarah Scott is starting to make plans to re-open her family’s fashion business, Tiffany.

They close on Mondays, but she wants to be open the next day, Tuesday June 16, and is working on her risk assessment to make sure her staff and customers are safe.

Richard and Michelle Smith at the Shoe room in Doncaster with their National Footwear Industry Awards

Sarah’s family has been involved in retail in Doncaster town centre for nearly 100 years. Her grandmother Kitty Parker first went to work in ladieswear back in the 1920s, later opening her own shop.

She feel that fact that she runs a big store over two floors will be helpful.

Like Richard, she also plans to keep going with delivery services for those who want them, and is considering offering appoinments.

She’s looking at how she can re-design the layout with the fixtures and fittings, and how many people to allow in the shop at any one time.

Fitting rooms and trying things on is likely to be an issue, she said. If someone tries on a garment, it cannot be put back out on display until it has been through its own quaratine period.

She has masks and gloves and hand sanitiser ready for those who want them.

“I’m working out what to do with fittings rooms,” she said. “I have enough room to have them socially distanced, but every time one is used it would need to be cleaned.

“I’m glad that we’re going to get the opportunity to open, but there is a lot to consider. We have to make sure everything is safe. and that the staff feel safe. They are furloughed at the moment.

“People need to follow the guidelines and be sensible, but we need people to return at some point.”

Like Sarah, his family have been in retail in Doncaster for a long time, going back to the 1950s

He believes he will be helped by having a shop with a large floorspace, and is confident he will be able to put in place a one way system around the shop.

He also plans to be open on June 15, but is planning on having a maximum of five people in the shop at any one time, including two staff.

“After that it will be one in, one out,” he said. “People will have to wait. But we’re not prepared to put anyone’s health at risk.

“It is important to have shops back open, but everyone has to be sensible.”

He is also looking at a no touching rule, but is concerned people may not want to buy a sofa if they can’t sit on it.

Shopping centre

It is not just the smaller, private businesses that are making their preparations for attracting customers back to Doncaster town centre.

Work has this week started to transform the inside of the Frenchgate Centre to allow for the safe return of shopping.

Workmen have been in the centre transforming the broad corridors of the indoor centre, removing furniture such as seats, to leave just empty passageways, to allow more space for people to walk and keep a safe distance from other people.

Nine shops are already open in the centre. Shops such as the Sainsbury’s supermarket have been open throughout as they are selling essentials. The Entertainer has been operating a click and collect service.

Deputy centre manager Karen Staniforth thinks it is important that people are informed about how they are shopping, and to plan in advance.

“It is about informing customers about being safe and taking responsibilty,” she said.

“From what we’ve seen with the shops that have been open, people have been great. They have been patient and tolerant.

“Everything is risk assessed. There will be one way systems in all the malls, and no clutter or seating.

“I welcome things getting back to normal a bit, but recognise there are people who will be concerned about things.

“Retailers are having to look at what space they have. Changing rooms will be closed.

“But also, Doncaster Council have been very good and have done a lot more in the town centre than some areas, with floor graphics out, and the pedestrianisation of some areas, and we’re having regular meetings with them.

“There are people who want to shop and want that social connection. We need to be making sure it’s happening safely, and educating people that they need to be patient when they come, and to plan.”