Concern has been raised that the public could be deterred from venturing into towns if there are large and overlapping queues for shops, buses and post offices.
However, while retailers are busy preparing to take the necessary precautions around social distancing and strict hygiene inside their stores, there is a question mark over who should take responsibility for managing what happens outside of them.
The British Retail Consortium has called on local governments to share the responsibility with business owners.
“Shops will do everything they can to keep staff and customers safe,” said Dominic Curran, property policy adviser at the British Retail Consortium. “This means working with neighbouring shops to ensure queues are managed and everyone can safely move around shopping locations
“However, the local authority also has a role in supporting shops – for example, addressing issues where pavements may need to be extended and making sure all businesses are treated fairly.”
Sarah Simcock, owner of womenswear independent Caramel Clothing in Exmouth, Devon, told Drapers: “I don’t think it should be up to the individual businesses to put markers on the pavement for 2 metre-spaced queueing, because it’s a public highway.
“We plan to have a rope across the door when the shop is full and one marker for where to start a queue, so people can exit. The government also needs to do something.”
Crowded high streets will be of particular concern to independent retailers that are located in smaller towns with narrower pavements.
Shops can control what happens in their stores but not what happens on the street
“Independents are going to have the biggest problem, if people come and see the queues they’re going to walk away,” said retail consultant and former House of Fraser director of planning and store development, David Blakeney.
“This has the potential to be as chaotic as the reopening of schools. Shops can control what happens in their stores but not what happens on the street.”
However, some retailers argued that too much council intervention could restrict accessibility to stores.
Jane Hewitt, director of womenswear boutique Retail Therapy in Hertford, said: “The local council has blocked off streets to pedestrianise areas, but the problem is they’ve made it impossible for customers to get into town. There needs to be a happy medium. They haven’t thought it through at all.”
Few independents Drapers spoke to had received guidance or support from their local authority ahead of reopening next week.
“We have a community officer, who has been out and around and policing the queues outside the butcher near us, but we are under-supported [by the local council]. We want to be busy once we open but a big queue would be a headache,” said Rob Welsh, director of Erj womenswear boutique in Chester.
Karen George, owner of the eponymous independent in Emsworth, Hampshire, added: “If there are any issues, I think me and my neighbour will sort it out between us. We’re all in this together.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “The reopening of our high streets is key to kick-starting our economic recovery – that’s why we’re providing an extra £50m for councils for safety measures to help these businesses get back on track.
“Retailers should ensure that outdoor queues don’t cause a risk to others, for example by using barriers or having staff to direct customers. They should work with their council or landlord to consider the impact of queues on high streets and public car parks.
“In the event of a dispute we expect business owners to work with the council or landlord to find a common-sense solution.”