Towns prepare to welcome 'responsible shoppers' on last weekend before Christmas

Mannequins wearing masks in Coes department store.

Suffolk's shop owners and town leaders are gearing up for the last weekend before Christmas. - Credit: Charlotte Bond

Business owners and town leaders are hoping for a busy last weekend before Christmas – but call for shoppers to keep to social distancing guidelines.

Fiona Coe, marketing manager for independent clothes retailer Coes, said: "I've got my fingers crossed for a busy weekend.

Fiona Coe, marketing manager at Coes

Fiona Coe, marketing manager at Coes - Credit: Charlotte Bond

"We're definitely getting to the stage where online orders aren't guaranteed for those last minute presents. So we're feeling positive about a hopefully busy weekend.

"The grim news about rates in Ipswich is maybe making people think a bit, but I hope it won't because we're very secure and and 100% on it with hygiene. People can drive straight to us then be in and out quite quickly." 

Some firms have already experienced a boost as people turned to support local businesses during the pandemic.

Oliver Paul, co-director of the Suffolk Food Hall, said: "We've had a very good year and that is principally down to loads of wonderful local customers. The number of orders is up 16.5% compared to last year."

Oliver Paul co-director of the Suffolk Food Hall.

Oliver Paul, co-director of the Suffolk Food Hall. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Mr Paul expects the Food Hall's busiest day to be December 23 and had changed its opening hours to accommodate the extra shoppers – but they are already prepared for the rush.

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"We've had a marquee put across the front door," he said. "Just in case we need to regulate the number of people in the Food Hall we've got that so people can stand under cover.

"And we've obviously got a number of clear Covid-secure protocols in place."

Antonio Bellini, owner of The Italian Shirts Shop on St Peter's Street, said he believed independent stores were safer than others on the high street.

Antonio Bellini, owner of The Italian Shirt Shop in St Peter's Street, Ipswich.

Antonio Bellini, owner of The Italian Shirt Shop in St Peter's Street, Ipswich - Credit: SARAH LUCY BROWN

"My front door is always closed but I have a bell outside for people to ring," he said. "After I let people in I close the door again and they have the shop to themselves."

He added that he was keeping the windows of the shop open to help with ventilation.

Mr Bellini said that a good week before Christmas could equal a month's trade at other times in the year. 

"The next week or so being busy would be a godsend," he said. "What you take in a week at the moment is considerably more than I would take in the whole of January. It's the most important time and without it, we'd be in lots of trouble." 

Terry Baxter, chairman of Ipswich Central, said: "I hope there will be a good number of shoppers out and about in Ipswich this weekend.

Ipswich Central's Terry Baxter in the Cornhill in Ipswich

Ipswich Central's Terry Baxter called for shoppers to be safe this weekend. - Credit: NICOLE DRURY/IBC

"But I really hope they will do what we've been calling for throughout this whole pandemic. That is to abide by the rules, to socially distance, to be safe and to enjoy the experience.

"It's really up to us all to play our part and make sure we can get to Christmas and enjoy it with our family and friends."

Mark Cordell, chief executive of Our Bury St Edmunds, echoed Mr Baxter's message.

Bury BID chief executive Mark Cordell in the Arc shopping centre.

Bury BID chief executive Mark Cordell in the Arc shopping centre - Credit: OUR BURY ST EDMUNDS

He said: "Bury St Edmunds has relatively low levels of the virus but we're trying to encourage people to try and come in at the less busy times over the next week when many of the businesses are open later.

"All of the shops have capacity restrictions and what we don't want is people having to stand outside for long periods of time queuing and taking up space.

"If we could reduce people coming in at peak times, that's going to make life better for everyone, because none of us want to see a huge increase in infection levels post Christmas.

"Responsible shopping is what we're hoping for from the public."