London’s Oxford Street was packed on Sunday (Picture: PA)
Shoppers filled English high streets in their thousands on the first weekend since the second national lockdown finished.
Hordes of people were seen filling up town centres across the country on Saturday and Sunday, as families began Christmas shopping in earnest. Businesses are hoping to take advantage of the festive period after a terrible year for sales, and will be pleased to see crowds back in town and city centres – but some will be concerned by mass gatherings amid the coronavirus crisis.
Queues formed along London’s Oxford Street as shoppers made the most of the relaxed Covid-19 restrictions under the new tiered system, which came into force on Wednesday.
The capital’s Mayor Sadiq Khan was among them and took selfies with people at the shopping hotspot.
He said: ‘It’s quite clear speaking to shopkeepers, businesses and those in retail, they’ve had a horrendous nine months, they’re keen to make sure this golden month and this golden quarter they can make up some of the ground lost.
‘They’ve seen the collapse of international tourism, the collapse of domestic tourism, and that’s why they really need our support.
‘Unless we support our shops we can’t be surprised if, due to a combination of Covid and lack of business, shops close and people lose their jobs.’
But there are fears that more mixing could see a spike in coronavirus cases – and possibly harsher restrictions after Christmas, when the current rules will be eased for five days.
Shoppers queue outside the Nike Town London store on Oxford Street on Sunday (Picture: AFP)
Businesses hope the return of Christmas shoppers can help them survive after an awful year (Picture: PA)
It comes after a week of high street woes, as 26,500 jobs were put at risk at retailers including Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group and Debenhams – which have been severely impacted by the pandemic.
Mr Khan said it was important people continued to follow the rules, with the majority of England under tier two and three of the new restrictions, which limit social contact between households but allow non-essential stores to open.
He said: ‘It’s really important that we don’t think that this virus is behind us or that we’re over the worst necessarily.’
His visit to the West End coincided with Small Business Saturday, an annual event which takes place on the first Saturday of December.
Now in its eighth year in the UK, a record 17.6 million people supported small independent businesses on last year’s Small Business Saturday, spending an estimated £800 million.
Michelle Ovens, director of Small Business Saturday, said: ‘We are optimistic that this has been one of the biggest days for a long time for small businesses.
‘The rising groundswell of awareness and affection we’re seeing for small firms from the public too is also a positive indicator – research we did with American Express shows that almost two thirds of people now support them more due to the pandemic.
‘Shopping local is especially important as many small firms are facing a compressed Christmas trading period.
‘These small firms are at the heart of communities and local economies, so all of our individual actions can add up and have a massive impact.’
With less than three weeks until Christmas, shoppers are being urged to shop locally in a push to save small businesses from financial ruin.
Insurance providers Simply Business estimated two out of three smaller firms and self-employed workers have had to stop trading at some point in the past six months due to the crisis.
It found Covid-19 could cost small businesses up to £69 billion, while a separate study by American Express suggested that almost half of non-essential independent retailers believed their survival depended on sales in the run up to Christmas.
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