With new guidance published to advise retailers on the best ways to operate safely once stores are allowed to open again, The Guardian has asked various high street retailers to share their plans and their fears for the future of their enterprises.

Hairdresser Anne Murray admits missing her regulars and has been on lockdown since the end of March. She has furloughed the other hairdresser she employs and has plans to use her £10,000 cash grant to pay the bills and keep her business alive.

She has concerns that given the continuation of social distancing measures even after the end of the lockdown, given the proximity of clients during a haircut, it’s likely such businesses will not be able to open until the end of the year.

Many restauranteurs have had to lay off or furlough staff, but some have managed to keep ticking over by providing a takeaway service.

Al Bramley launched his Mexican restaurant in September 2019 but was forced to close. He has managed to re-hire two chefs and front of house staff as they launched their delivery service, which so far has proved popular, however, turnover for the business has halved.

“We are going to have to renegotiate our rent with our landlord,” Bramley says. “I haven’t had that conversation yet, but it’s coming.”

He has been working hard on planning how to set out tables in the restaurant so that customers and staff can observe social distancing. “We could do about 25 covers inside. And if the sun is shining, we could do another 30 covers outside,” he says. “With the takeaway market and a rent reduction, we could just about survive.”

Cathy Emmerson closed her greetings card shop the day before the national lockdown was announced. “We closed at the end of Mother’s Day,” she says. “I’ve got four members of staff and I didn’t feel comfortable asking them to come to work.”

She does hope to be able to re-open the shop in time but knows there will be issues to address in her tiny premises. “We deal with people directly. The elderly like us to read cards to them. Staff need to move around the shop too,” she says.

She is confident she will find a way to comply. “If we have to put up a sign saying ‘two customers only’ we will,” she says. “It’s a card and greetings shop. It only gets busy on Saturday and around occasions.”

According to the social distancing guidance published by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and USDAW (Union of Shop, Distribution and Allied Workers) shops may implement one way systems and have to provide regular hand sanitisers for customers.

The guidance, drawn up to support the government’s guidelines to halt the spread of the virus and protect the NHS, could see customer toilets closed, and services that require direct customer interaction such as personal shopping, make up tutorials and nail bars could be a thing of the past.

While it is still not known when the non-food retail sector will re-open, the published guidance recommends that shops and business owners start preparing in advance.

The recommendations businesses may wish to consider facilitating in their stores are based on the experience of BRC food retail members who have been operating social distancing effectively in stores in recent weeks.


These are the key points they recommend:

Outside shops

  • Limited entry and exit point, with possible separate entrance and exit points
  • A limited number of customers in-store at a time
  • Possible temporary barriers to stop queues from forming
  • Shared queueing spaces with nearby shops, and proper distance markings
  • Customers encouraged to shop alone where possible

Inside shops

  • Hygiene stations including hand sanitiser and disinfectant wipes
  • Possibly altered shop layouts to ensure social distancing is possible
  • One-way systems with floor markings and signage
  • Regular announcements to staff and customers to remind them of social distancing advice
  • Some till points may be closed
  • Product demonstrations may have to be closed to discourage groups from forming
  • Restocking may be limited to outside opening hours
  • Cashless payments encouraged
  • Changing rooms may be closed, or carefully manned
  • Removed or limited customer seating
  • Closing of services which require direct interaction with customers, such as makeup advice


The full guidance published by Usdaw and the BRC can be found here.

If you are looking for heavy-duty shop fronts, contact our team today!