The uncertain return of the High Street: retail reopens but the queues are short…

North End in Croydon. Pic: Fiona Holland

Reporting team: Clara Murray, Fiona Holland, Caitlin Tilley, Weronika Strzyzynska

Shops across England selling non-essential goods welcomed back customers today as the country’s second lockdown came to an end, in time for the final weeks of shopping before Christmas.

With images of round the corner queues fresh in the memory from last lockdown, and the new possibility of 24-hour trading, Eastlondonlines took to the streets of east and south London, to see what the return of retail looked like this time round…


The most noticeable thing in the centre of Croydon on the first day of the new Tier 2 restrictions was not the length of queues, but more the ominous amount of High Street stores that seemed to be closed for good – a problem it has been facing for a couple of years.

In Whitgift shopping centre, retailers said that overall, the crowds haven’t been as huge as expected. Deque, a cashier from Marks and Spencer told Eastlondonlines: “I mean we’ve just come back from a full lockdown so I don’t think there’s a huge rush [of people] at the moment. It’s been [manageable].”

Karen, a seller from the Avon beauty products stand agreed: “It’s busy, but it’s not overwhelming… I went past Primark outside there at seven this morning and I thought it would be heaving but it was fairly calm.”

She said it was not necessarily business as usual, but that it had been a fairly positive experience overall: “I mean I’d love everyone to get out right now but we’ll just see how it goes… I think everyone’s happy to be back out again really.”

In Clarks, store manager Scott noted that there had been “waves of busy periods”, particularly “at the peak times, so lunch and when we first opened.” He added that they were still working by an appointment system and think that this will continue for the foreseeable future.

Whitgift shopping centre, Croydon. Pic: Fiona Holland


In Lewisham, customers were queuing to get into TK Maxx in New Cross this morning, but the overall footfall in the shop was not much different to before lockdown.

Queues were also noticeable absence from Lewisham shopping centre. A spokesperson from the shopping centre told ELL: “Lewisham shopping centre has enjoyed welcoming shoppers back to all of its stores today. Trade has been good and everyone has followed our new measures to keep shoppers safe while they enjoy Christmas shopping. We have been busy.”

Asadul Hoque, 29, deputy manager at Danish stationary and gift store Flying Tiger in the shopping centre, told ELL they had had around 600 customers today, although this was about average for the store. He said that overall, the centre had been quieter than shopworkers were expecting. But he added: “People seemed very pleased to be back in the shops.”

At the British Red Cross charity shop in Lewisham shopping centre, Laura Kalnina, 38, assistant shop manager told ELL they had seen more customers than usual today, and that they “just seemed happy to be shopping.” “I’m happy to be back too, obviously,”  she said, “It was boring [in lockdown] and now it’s really busy, so it’s good to be back.”


In Hackney, Enya at Burley Fisher Books on Kingsland Rd, Dalston, told EastLondonLines: “From today we are open as normal. It has been a nice and busy day for the shop on a Wednesday. People have been coming in waves in as usually do.”

Burley Fisher Books in Dalston, Hackney. Pic: Burley Fisher Books

Jasmine, who works at streetwear shop Circle Collective on Kingsland High Street in Hackney, told ELL: It was on the upper end of usual. There were a lot of customers today, it wasn’t a quiet day but it’s not been crazy either.”

Ella, from tapestry shop A New Tribe on Hackney Road, said: “It was quite slow this morning, but it gradually picked up during the day. It hasn’t been super busy. It has been nice to be open again.”

Tower Hamlets

It was also a quite slow day for the traders on Brick Lane, although some of the indie sellers of vintage clothes and records said they could easily transition into trading online. 

Ian Bodenham, from vintage shop Hunky Dory, said: “It was surprisingly quiet, the number of people. I thought there would be a lot more people who have been released out of their pens, but the sales were good.” Of the endless weeks spent in lockdown, he added: “I like time off as much as the next person, but it does get a bit boring.” But, that time allowed him to start trading online. “I haven’t done a lot of that before, but it has been very useful financially.”  

Alex, a shop assistant at Rough Trade East, a record shop, had a similar experience. “It’s been busy for a midweek day… Obviously there’ll be an increase in shopping around Christmas but we don’t really know how it will be in comparison to normal times.” 

He added that the transition to online trading saw a big increase in sales, although not enough to make up for Covid losses. “So much of our trading has moved out of our shops and into our online stores… We had to move from our shop into a much bigger warehouse, it increased by like 100 per cent.” 

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