"We have absolutely no expectation, we are not Primark" - Leeds independent shops taking a more comfortably cautious approach to re-opening

There were no queues for hours before opening, bulk sales or security guards required for the city's independent shops re-opening this week.

By Emma Ryan
Saturday, 20th June 2020, 6:00 am

But that was just the way they wanted it as the city's smaller entrepreneurs came back after three months of lockdown.

Operated by just a handful of staff and in smaller spaces, many are taking a more cautious and phased approach to getting business back to normal.

It comes after thousands queued to get into high street favourites in Leeds on Monday, such as Primark and Sports Direct, as non-essential shops were allowed to open their doors again for the first time since March.

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Open - but not as we know it. Crash Records in Leeds is taking a phased approach to re-opening.

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Crash Records has been working behind closed doors since lockdown kicked in on getting out pre-orders of album launches, website sales and managing sales for concerts being held on-line such as All Time Low and Jack Garratt.

On Monday it re-opened for collections only and while shop browsing it not an option at the moment due to the size of the shop and amount of stock, co-owner Scott Gamble is okay with that.

He told the Yorkshire Evening Post: "Because we are small and independent we can adapt. When it comes to us re-opening we are a little shop and our approach is opening for collection only which has been successful. We are discouraging browsing, we are not in a position to be cleaning stock every 30 seconds. Some are talking about quarantining stock but I don't think it needs to be this level.

Co-owner, Scott Gamble outside one of Leeds' most popular independent shops.

"Customers will have their own feelings on what will work and won't and will vote with their feet. We want to play it carefully and make it safe for everyone - staff and customers. While we have not been away from the shop it has been nice seeing the regulars and speaking to them face to face - albeit through a mask and perspex screen."

Crash is no stranger to having adapt to changing times. The shop has been in business for more than 30 years and has moved from selling 90 per cent CDs and 10 per cent records to a resurge in vinyl, limited editions and ticket sales.

Its reputation and popularity will have stood it in good stead for online business, but, Mr Gamble fears many independents won't survive the fall out from the effect that coronavirus and lockdown has had on the economy.

He added: "Retail is going to be different and shops will do stuff with or without success and adapt an approach. Unfortunately, I think some won't recover from this. I would not envy any business in its infancy in any circumstance. That first year of trade is the most difficult. We have been established, like our friends at Jumbo Records, in Leeds for a long time and there is a reason for that. People like what we do and we offer a service you don't get from companies not investing in the local economy."

Like many independent stores, Crash Records has lots of stock in a small space.

Becky Palfrey at Colours May Vary, a book shop and event space, said: "The first day was nicely busy but not too busy and we were able to control numbers. We had absolutely no expectation. We are not Primark or Louis Vuitton, did not have a big sale and knew that our customer base was probably like we are - a little bit more reticent to rush back to what people would describe as normality.

"We don't expect them to rush back and would rather they didn't. We would rather it was safe. The option is here to come but we hope it will gradually build back up."

Ms Palfrey is the co-owner of Colours May Vary with her partner Andy Gray and as they are a couple and run the business, staying safe is doubly important for them. They have changed the shop and gallery space around, spread stock out and have a colour coded pad which flashes red when customers are too close to the counter. They have put hand gel in the shop entrance but say it was a "minefield" to decide what kind of PPE to buy that would be practical in the shop and fit in a business budget that has already been hit hard by closure.

She added: "Our online business has rocketed but not replaced like for like sales and that is the same across the industry. Waterstones has had a huge increase in web orders but has not balanced the books. When you browse you pick up extra bits and pieces and spend more than online. When you head to the website it is for a specific purpose.

The Welcome Back to Leeds website features advice on what shops are open, where to park and more.

"The thing we love the most is our customers and never want to be a solely online retailer. We have made friends and relationships and get people together on projects and have missed that interaction."

Welcome back to Leeds is an info hub designed to help guide you safely back to the city centre in the months ahead. welcometoleeds.co.uk #backtoleeds