After almost three months of forced closure, Lincoln’s independent shops have re-emerged, welcoming back their local customer bases.

The importance of local customers was a common thread among independent business owners’ experiences. Photo: Abbey Warne

From Monday, 15 June, non-essential businesses such as retailers and gift shops were allowed to open their doors to the public once again, following the further relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions.

As a result, independent shops in the city have been gradually reopening to members of the public throughout the week.

Tom Riley, owner of the video game shop Gotham Games, located on the High Street, reopened his shop on the day the regulations were eased.

He said: “We are super grateful for all the support we received during and after the lockdown.

“Thankfully, all our customers have been patient and understanding which is good, and it is just nice to see people after all this time, as we slowly start to take steps to return back to normal.”

Josie Rossington, owner of Follie, a gift shop situated on Lincoln Bailgate, resumed business three days later on Thursday, 18 June.

Prior to reopening, she said: “My head is a bit of a whirl at the moment, full of anticipation, excitement, anxiety, and probably a bit overwhelmed.

“I think, along with many other small independent businesses in Bailgate, we will take each day as it comes.”

Some independent shops made the decision to continue business online during the lockdown period.

Top to Bottom Accessories, a gifts and accessories shop on Steep Hill, was one of them.

Ms Taylor, co-owner, said: “Our customers are generally locals and regulars but throughout lockdown, we’ve had some new customers through our engagement with social media.

“We found that our customers wanted to support us during the pandemic and other smaller businesses in general.”

Mr Riley, of Gotham Games, believes that having a solid, reliable customer base is vital to surviving difficult situations.

He said: “The established customer base is definitely crucial. People aren’t window-shopping or coming into the city centre just for a wander, and there is also currently no tourism in the city.

“Having a local customer base to rely on is so helpful in hard times.

“We didn’t have too many visitors to the store when we reopened, but the ones that did visit pretty much all made a purchase.”

Non-essential shops were allowed to reopen from Monday, 15 June. This image was taken before restrictions were imposed. Photo: Abbey Warne.

The importance of local customers was a common thread among independent business owners’ experiences.

Michelle Bird, who owns Bluebird Art and Crafts, located on The Strait, said brand recognition was key to her restarting the business.

“It’s because they know I’m here. That’s what did the trick, because Steep Hill has still been very quiet with no tourists and I only did well because I am established.”

Since reopening, independent businesses have also enforced safety measures put forward by the U.K. government.

This includes limiting the number of customers in a store at one time, introducing one-way systems, hand sanitising stations and two-metre social distancing markers.

Some businesses, like Top to Bottom, have gone one step further, installing a shield on the shop counter to protect customers and staff.

Others, including Bluebird Art and Crafts, have adopted shorter opening hours, enabling shop surfaces to be cleaned on a daily basis.

Ms Bird even described herself as “beady eyed” in making sure customers don’t pick up products in-store and remain socially distanced.

However, some independent businesses are remaining closed for the moment.

Among them is The Cheese Society, found on St Martin’s Lane, which is sticking to deliveries.

Lucie Nock from The Cheese Society said: “We’re not sure when we’ll be reopening, but it’s looking like August as we’re about to get building work done on our shop. 

“We also want the high street to be a bit busier before we consider reopening.”

The hospitality industry is set to reopen on Saturday, 4 July, following the House of Commons announcement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday, 23 June 23.

By Abbey Warne and Lucy Corbett

News Editor at The Linc.