Wednesday, 3 March 2021

It's not just the pubs I am missing

It’s not just the nation’s pubs that I am in a hurry to see reopen, there’s the so-called “non-essential retail” sector as well. Like much of the country, I am in desperate need of a haircut, and whilst I could just allow it to continue growing – as in my student days, the fact that it takes so long to dry in the mornings, is real nuisance.

I also don’t like going out in the cold, with my hair still wet – a sort of hangover from my teenage years, when my mother would forecast all manner of sticky ends for me, should I be foolish enough do so!

Apart from barbers, there are several other retailers with the misfortune to fall into the “non-essential” category. High amongst them are shoe shops, as a shoe with a split sole that lets in the rain, is driving me crazy. It is one of just two work pairs I possess, as like most blokes, my shoe collection is somewhat limited, unlike my good lady wife. She has sufficient shoes to wear a different pair each week of the year, in fact she’d give Imelda Marcos a good run for her money, but we won't go into that!

Given the importance of footwear, I am surprised to see this in the “non-essential” category. With schools due to return next week, there must be hundreds of parents out there, desperate to kit their little darlings out with new shoes, and given the way that children outgrow or wear out their current pair(s), I would definitely have placed shoe shops in the essential retail category. 

The same applies to waking boots – perhaps not quite as essential as children’s shoes, but with the government encouraging us to exercise more, those of us into our walking do need the correct footwear. I wrote at length about the problem with my boots, back in October, and with outdoor and leisure shops still closed, the situation hasn’t changed.

The only thing that has is, after much online research, I now know the brand of boots to go for. My determination to wait until the shops re-open remains, as despite plenty of YouTube videos advising purchasers on how to measure and size, their feet, and what to look for when trying on a pair of new boots, there is no substitute for doing this physically, in store, under the guidance of a suitably qualified fitter.

 Patience then, remains the watchword, but I do wonder about the arbitrary way in which the retail trade has been divided into essential and non-essential.  I am also concerned that this process has dis-proportionally discriminated against small businesses who are far less able to weather the storm of closure than their larger counterparts.

Government advertisements propaganda continues to thank us for staying at home, conveniently ignoring the fact that an increasing number of us are out working at our various jobs. They also ignore the damage being done to local communities, caused by the closure of “non-essential retail.” It’s all well and good, instructing us to stay at home and shop online, but this in itself is creating a worrying trend. If proof of this was needed, just ask Mrs PBT’s as it’s a rare day I come home and discover that the Hermes or DPD driver hasn’t dropped off yet another package at our address!

By the time this post is published, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, will have delivered his budget. If the leaks are correct, we can expect a wide-ranging package of support to help both retail and hospitality sectors, but after a year where both have been unable to trade for large periods of time, will these measures be sufficient?

The supermarkets and online retailers have done very well during the pandemic, and I am not knocking them for this. Many people would have struggled to get through the past year without their presence, but please spare a thought for the little guys; the small independent retailers who bring variety, interest and above all, personal service to the High Street. They have been particularly badly hit during this crisis and deserve our support once they are permitted to reopen.

As for those shoes, boots and much needed haircut, I shall be amongst the first inline on 12th April – the day before my birthday, and coincidentally the day we will finally be able to enjoy a drink in a pub garden. Bring it on!!!


retiredmartin said...

The glorious 12th.

I share your frustrations. Playing devils advocate, I guess nominating nearly all but supermarkets as "non-essential" has reduced the number of people mixing on streets, in small shops and on public transport.

We could in theory have closed supermarkets as well and forced all shopping to home delivery but I think closing Tesco and Aldi would have created riots, and what the Government has I believe done well is avoid panic.

But a lot of services aren't running well (try buying a house) and on-line shopping isn't great.

Paul Bailey said...

I’m sure you are right Martin, but it is the little people who suffer disproportionally during these closures. The owners of small and often quirky independent shops who, through no fault of their own, are forced to cease trading, are also those who can least afford the loss of income. As I’ve said before, I don’t think the epidemiologists and behavioural experts, who are advising the government, appreciate this.

With the possible exception of China, I don’t think any governments went down the route of closing supermarkets. The Welsh government tried forcing supermarkets to block off certain sections of their stores, in a half-hearted attempt to create a “level playing field “ with smaller, “non-essential” stores, who were made to close. It didn’t go down well with the Welsh public, and made their dour-faced, First Minister (the one described by friend of mine, as looking too miserable even to qualify as an undertaker), look even more ridiculous.

Closing supermarkets altogether, would have taken us into dangerous territory, but fortunately the government had the sense to realise this.

Ordering online, is all well and good, but does have limitations. We have been following the “click & collect” option for our grocery shopping, since the start of this current lock-down, but this weekend, buoyed up by four weeks of the first shot of vaccine, we will venture back inside Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s. Such excitement!

Finally, well done to you and Mrs RM, for your perseverance in arranging and conducting your house move online. Never an easy, or enjoyable experience at the best of times, so full marks to you both.