Since non-essential shops reopened on Monday 15 June, businesses are adjusting their operations to comply with COVID-19 safety measures and social distancing.
For some retailers, their industry presents unique challenges navigating a “new normal” way of running previous tried and tested procedures.
Owner of Caterham Valley’s bridal boutique, Helena Fortley, Sally Brady said of her largest obstacle: “It’s the unknown. I know it’s difficult for everybody but it’s the not knowing.”
Weddings and civil partnerships in England have been allowed to take place from Saturday 4 July with a maximum of 30 guests.
Currently, only six people may attend an outside reception or two households if held inside.
From Saturday 1 August, 30 guests will be permitted at a reception.
The appointment only shop has seen more than one hundred weddings cancelled this year, however Brady said the impact of lockdown did not stop the arrival of customers’ dresses being delivered to the compact space.
Brides visiting Helena Fortley were required to wear a mask before they were made mandatory for enclosed public spaces in England on Friday 24 July, and can only bring one guest along with them instead of an entourage of bridesmaids.
“We’re saying they can also FaceTime people, which we don’t usually allow. Obviously this takes time so appointments are longer,” Brady said.
Upon entering the store, there is a sanitation station on the right side featuring hand gel, disinfectant spray, gloves, and extra masks if needed.
The shopping process has also slightly changed as the number of gowns allowed for trying on has been cut from 15 to eight and dresses are sanitised in between clients.
Brady said: “Normally, we could see two people at a time because we’ve got two changing rooms, but now we’re only seeing one.
“That halves the amount of people who can come in on a Saturday.”
On the hill, dance wear specialists The Ballet Box are operating at reduced opening hours and have introduced a booking system for fittings.
The Ballet Box owner, Sarah Goodwin, said: “The interesting thing with my business is, probably similar to the wedding shop, mine’s very seasonal because of dance schools being a bit like schools.
“As you draw into the summer, it goes very quiet, so I have reopened at an incredibly quiet time.”
Goodwin said the pandemic has forced her to adapt the business for the better. As well as an upgraded commercial website The Ballet Box’s biggest supplier, Bloch, started making masks which they now sell online and in store.
Coming from a nursing background, Goodwin said writing risk assessments is second nature.
Her main concern was fitting shoes, as getting close to someone is unavoidable, which meant customers also had to wear masks prior to them being compulsory.
Goodwin said: “A lot of my customer service is for children who are quite small and rely on a smile.
“It may be that I convert to a visor so they can see my face.”
Although The Ballet Box was able to accept orders for certain items which could be posted or dropped off when its doors were closed, without government help from the local authority grant, the store would not be open today.
“I’m just hoping I can survive until September, when dance schools may go back, and all the children have hopefully outgrown their uniforms,” Goodwin said.
Despite the learning curve for businesses, both Helena Fortley and The Ballet Box expressed positive signs of hope and encouragement going forward.