The change to one-metre guidance on social distancing and the reopening of pubs and restaurants in England will not take away customers won under lockdown, according to store owners.

On 23 June, Boris Johnson announced easing restrictions for England including cutting the two-metre guidance to one metre and allowing pubs, cafés, hotels, tourist attractions and more to resume trading from 4 July.

NFRN national president Stuart Reddish said the changes “will create many opportunities for independent retailers, the changes will not come without potential risks”.

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He added the change to one metre may allow retailers to “increase any customer limits within the stores”, but those uncomfortable with the change were “absolutely within their right to maintain their current restrictions”.

Many store owners told betterRetailing they were staying the course. “We’ll be keeping the two-metre guidance in place. Reducing to one metre is just a way of getting pubs reopened. I think the appetite for a pint in the pub is lost in many people.

“We’re looking forward to a bumper summer still,” said Samantha Coldbeck of Wharfedale Premier in Hull.

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While the measures only apply to England, Trudy Davies of Woosnam & Davies News in Llanidloes, Powys, said: “Even when it’s down to one metre I’m sticking to it. It has kept me and my family safely working so far and I’m not taking any chances.”

Jack Matthews of Bradleys Supermarkets in Quorn, Leicestershire, said he would be retaining an eight person limit in his 2,600sq ft site.

Asked whether he was concerned that shorter queues in supermarkets could drive shoppers back to their normal habits, he responded: “There’s a lot of discussion on customer comfort and safety in supermarkets, but I just don’t see that it’s different to independents. What is driving this is an accelerated trend in shopping local and that’s not changing.”

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Retail consultant Graham Soult suggested easing customer count restrictions may not help the supermarkets win back sales lost to independents. “If the supermarket is likely to be twice as busy, I’m probably twice as unlikely to want to go there,” he explained.

Matthews added that lockdown had seen his weekly alcohol sales rise by more than £10,000.

Discussing the impact of the return of pubs, he said: “It’s my biggest worry, but we have seven pubs in the village and we want to see them do well. However, with people still isolating, table service and additional costs needing to be passed on to the consumer, I think there’ll be an initial burst of interest, but I don’t think it will be maintained.”

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Convenience retailing consultant and founder of the Independent Retail Owners Forum (IROF), Scott Annan, agreed.

He said: “Until the pub or restaurant experience can return to normal, people will continue to look elsewhere, and there will be a bonus there for convenience stores. However, any store that thinks they can keep doing what they are doing and keep their 35% sales uptick has another thing coming.”

He said customers had already relaxed their adherence to lockdown before the government allowed it and called on stores to mirror shopper needs while staying within the law. “If Tesco Express could only have five customers in previously, now it will have 10, and independents can and should do the same.”

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Explaining his discussions with leading convenience store owner IROF members, he told betterRetailing: “They’re reopening deli counters, they’ve been operating cafe-to-go concepts in store and they’re planning huge investments in food to go such as sit-in diners.

“While it’s important to use PPE and social distancing so customers are comfortable, there are opportunities to be had for those agile enough to get these elements up and running before the supermarkets, and it can be done safely.”

Reddish advised that whatever social distancing spacing is adopted or continued, stores should continue to be signposted through floor stickers. Retailers “must continue to combat Covid-19” by maintaining raised hygiene standards, he added.

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