Regent Street In London was full of shoppers today
Today I took a glimpse into the post-pandemic future and I have to say, it didn’t look that bad at all.
Saturday July 4 has for many years been known as Independents Day in the U.K. celebrating and supporting all the independent retailers who we rely on but often forget in favour of shopping at the bigger brands. But today, this July 4 also means something else.
Because it is also being dubbed Super Saturday, the day when pubs, bars and restaurants – even hairdressers, are allowed to reopen after months of being closed due to the coronavirus.
Some even reopened at 6am this morning, such was the demand to have a pint in a pub once more. While others such as JD Wetherspoon saw fit to raise their prices from today.
Spokesman for the pub chain, Eddie Gershon, speaking to The Sun, said, “Prices will go up on beer, spirits and wine, by approximately 10p a serving and by approximately 20p on a meal”.
But what effect will the reopening of hospitality have on retail which we know opened up on June 15 to an initial surge of shoppers only to now be met with rather lukewarm interest? I travelled to London’s West End to find out.
The heart of London’s shopping is of course Oxford Street and Regent Street and the immediate surrounding areas and the first thing which struck me was that things felt like they were coming back to normal.
Cafe culture comes to Soho
A short walk away beyond the Carnaby district, is Soho and this was positively buzzing. And the most obvious change here was that many of the roads have been, albeit temporarily, pedestrianised.
It felt a little incongruous as the temporary nature of it all meant that it felt a bit like eating and drinking in the middle of some roadworks but that didn’t seem to be bothering people, simply glad to be able to get out and socialise again.
And there was certainly a marked difference in the feel of London from the day a few weeks ago when retail reopened, far busier, as if rediscovering its soul after months of being boarded up.
The relationship between hospitality and retail is of course close, one opening without the other was always going to feel a bit like after the Lord Mayor’s show. But adding the cafe culture to the mix created a new feel.
Because what it did was to allow pubs and restaurants to create new spaces for people, however makeshift they felt. Out of necessity has been born something which should have happened years ago, it’s just that it has taken a pandemic to open people’s eyes to the possibilities and potential of reinventing spaces.
And if the whole experience of the “new” London can be made to feel so much better by a little imagination, there is no reason why this cannot be replicated in towns and cities up and down the country.
Because people won’t want to go back to town and city centres congested with traffic creating harmful fumes and noise, now they know that a new greener, more social option exists.