Relief and excitement as Yorkshire's non-essential shops lift their shutters for the first time in over three months

For the first time in more than three months, town and city centres across Yorkshire bustled yesterday with shoppers able to visit non-essential stores.

Shutters were lifted as business owners who have longed for the day to come were able to welcome their first in-person shoppers since lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on January 4.

It was the third time in 12 months that shops had been ordered to close to help combat the spread of coronavirus, but the Prime Minister has repeatedly assured the public that this lockdown lifting is “cautious but irreversible.”

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And part two of the government’s road map was able to take place as planned yesterday, with shops, gyms, swimming pools and salons finally re-opened, as well as outdoor hospitality.

Members of the public returned yesterday to Meadowhall shopping centre, Sheffield. Pictured (left to right) Sisters Katie Snow,15, Abi Snow, 15, and Danielle Snow, 18, of Scunthorpe, celebrating shopping once again.

In Leeds, queues formed outside shops at 8am on Briggate, with shoppers snaking around King Edward Street for Debenhams’ closing down sale.

And in York residents were encouraged to visit the city centre with new outdoor seating installed for shoppers, and an under-cover area on Parliament Street.

Ashley Young, senior marketing and communications manager at Make It York said: “York has so many incredible independent retailers and a world-class hospitality industry, and it’s a positive step forward that we can start to see some of the businesses that we’ve greatly missed over the last few months now reopening.

“Local York businesses need our support more than ever before and so it’s really vital that people shop local and get behind the wonderful retailers and hospitality businesses we have in the city.”

For Philippa Morris, owner of the Little Apple Bookshop on High Petergate in York city centre, being able to finally open to the doors to book lovers has been a massive relief.

Ms Morris said: “We’ve had little kids already come in wanting to spend their book tokens, and one of my customers said she’s been quite giddy.

“York has been busy all the way through with outdoor areas open. We’re relieved, and it’s just nice to feel we’ve got through it. There was a little bit of anxiety, but we will be as safe as we can.”

The shop has been open for online sales during lockdown, but for some traders, all business ceased when shops closed their doors.

Gary Gittins, who trades in three independent shops in Sheffield’s Meadowhall centre, doesn’t run an online operation for his gift shops, which include a specialist Harry Potter store. He said the support he’s had from his units’ landlords has made the difference between him being able to re-open or not.

He said: “Landlords get a bad press, but to be fair, I’ve seen mine in a different light. I’ve got three boys who all work for me, I’ve built this business up over 12 years with a view to having something there for my boys. When something likes Covid comes along, you think ‘oh my goodness’, but we’re still here.

“We’ve no online presence. We’ve never been interested in it - we’re all about physical stores and meeting people, you just meet people that love the whole gift experience, and that are really passionate about what they’re into - the Harry Potter geeks are brilliant, we love them.”

And on the region’s outdoor markets, traders selling non-essential items were also happy to be reunited with their regular customers. Annie Ford, from Masham, who stands on four markets in North Yorkshire selling artisan gifts, returned to Thirsk market yesterday for the first time in three months.

Mrs Ford said: “It’s been fantastic, and great to see other traders, we are happy to be back. It’s been a frustrating time.

“We’ve had a few of my regulars back today. I’ve done lots of walking and DIY during lockdown but there’s nothing like being at work.”

Coun Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council encouraged local shopping. He said: “We can now cautiously look forward to summer and the revival of the retail and hospitality sectors, which contribute so much to North Yorkshire’s economy.

“Let’s keep the good local shopping habits formed during the pandemic and support our reopening businesses as much as we can, while remembering how important it is still to ‘wash hands, make space and cover face’ when we are out and about.”