Outlets including bars, restaurants, non-essential shops and personal care outlets reopened in Liverpool on Monday but business leaders are urging the public to remain cautious. Tony McDonough reports
Bars, restaurants, cafes, non-essential shops and hairdressers and personal care outlets reopened in Liverpool on Monday as more COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
Business leaders in the city have welcomed the opening up after “the longest winter” but are also urging people, particularly in the city centre, to continue to practise social distancing and wear masks when required to do so.
Until May 17 at the earliest, hospitality venues will only be allowed to serve customers outside. Restaurants and bars in locations such as Castle Street, Bold Street, Liverpool ONE and the Royal Albert Dock have been working hard in the past few weeks to be ready to resume trading.
Liverpool ONE has doubled the number of its outdoor dining spaces to 1,200 and 10 restaurants or cafes around Royal Albert Dock have also increased their outside capacity. One restaurant in the dock said it had already taken more than 1,000 advance bookings for April.
Andrew Ruffler, chief executive of Professional Liverpool, said: “It’s step two on the road map out of lockdown but feels like the biggest date yet and a huge morale boost for city centres and the high street in general.
“The ONS data reveals the overall impact – with 2020 showing the largest fall in retail spending on record, while hospitality has obviously suffered greatly. Online sales have done well in the period – rising to a record high of 33.9% as a share of all retail spending – but we are social beings and we do want to be out and about.
“The sector has at least had time to adapt. Clearly, there’s a hope that people will still respect the social distancing rules when shopping that will keep us all safe and protect the NHS.”
Bill Addy, chief executive of Liverpool BID Company, which represents 1,500 city centre businesses, told The Guide: “We are excited about the fact the city will reopen. We have been waiting for this for so long. We have been closed since Christmas. A whole quarter of trade has disappeared.
“From a retail point of view, they are really looking forward to it, and it is the same for our restaurants and our bars. There are new brands that are opening in the city. There is a lot of change.
“Our economy has suffered greatly over the past year and people need to get back in and support the jobs and the retail. Liverpool is a thriving shopping city. Most important thing for when we do come back is to do it safely. We want people to come back in numbers, but we want them to come back safely.”
Paul Cherpeau, chief executive of Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, added: “As we emerge from lockdown we look forward to our businesses across the leisure and retail industries in particular opening their doors.
“This feels like another step in the right direction, but we must remain vigilant, make use of the testing available to all businesses and support the ongoing vaccination programme.
“We should also support Liverpool City Council in the events testing currently being developed across both leisure and business and look forward to the next quarter with hope and optimism.”
Looking ahead to later in the year and to 2022, Neil Sturmey, a senior partner at Grant Thornton in Liverpool, believes hospitality venues will have to adapt to the new normal. He speculates that customers may remain reluctant to squeeze into packed bars as they did prior to the pandemic.
He explained: “t’s been the longest winter for High Street retailers and the hospitality sector and both are overdue some good news. Most of us are desperate to go out again and many businesses are hoping that we are heading for a golden summer.
“Longer term, things are going to be different. If we fast forward even further to 2022, it’s still hard to picture Friday nights with customers standing shoulder-to-shoulder in busy pubs.
“We expect to see new concepts in the restaurant and hospitality sector emerge. There will be pubs, restaurants, cafes that can’t operate profitably if there is any significant reduction in capacity driven by social distancing or if consumers turn away from crowded venues. New environments may come into play.
“The space increasingly available on the High Street, in some cases vacated by large retailers such as Debenhams, could be an option. Imagine restaurants which would have previously occupied small venues on a secondary street relocating to larger spaces on main streets, with the level of rent and rates adjusted to the new market realities.”
Regional tourism attractions are also set to reopen on with limited capacity. Julie Dalton, managing director of Gulliver’s Theme Parks and Resorts, said: “We cannot wait to welcome back visitors to both the theme park and our self-contained accommodation here at Gulliver’s World.
“As a family business being unable to open our theme parks for much of 2020, it has been very difficult and we are now looking forward to having our customers back in our parks in a safe way as possible.
“We know from coming out of the first lockdown that people will be cautious in their approach to travel and visiting entertainment, but we also know that many are desperate for some normality and to enjoy family fun.”