New start for town centres as lockdown eases
Get the Courier and Groat sent to your inbox every week and swipe through an exact replica of the day's newspaper
Torrential downpours may have affected those venturing out this week but there has certainly been a buzz about the town centres of Wick and Thurso.
And a fitting name for a new venture in Wick's town centre is New Start Highland – a charity shop which has decanted from Dempster Street and takes over from Blythswood.
Shop supervisor Maggie was just closing up at 4pm on Monday and said the idea behind the shop is to help people who are financially struggling to get a "new start" with quality second hand furniture.
"The staff that we had at Dempster Street will be coming down here and we're not losing anyone," she added.
Around the corner at 94-100 High Street, Morag Mackenzie was also closing up for the day – a day on which she welcomed back her first seated customers in her café.
Morag's Café was open for takeaways for most of the lockdown periods. "We went through two lockdowns and closed for a matter of weeks but once we found our feet we reopened for takeaways," she said.
"We had a fine day. A bit quieter than expected as it was raining and people are not quite sure what's what. Once they find their feet they'll get back." She reported that her regular stalwarts did appear on the day, however. "They were desperate to come back and so happy to be here."
A few yards away on the same street, Sams Furniture shop was open again after a period of closure due to lockdown regulations.
Business owner Sam Salim said: "Our homeware shop was allowed to open on the sixth of this month, so we had partially reopened, but this is our first real day of trading. It was nice to see regular faces coming into the shop and hopefully over the course of time people will have confidence to revisit their town centre."
Sam thinks that Covid has created issues for retailers such as "stock limitation". He has diversified beyond selling furniture and other household goods, however, and also does home removals too, with a "progressive presence" on social media. "We've noticed there has been quite a lot of people moving into the county rather than away from it."
Further along High Street at M&Co clothing and homeware shop, store manager Kristen Miller reported "steady business" throughout Monday. "Even with all the rain today, it's not put people off coming out. People have been kept in for so long and they're excited to get back out and chat to others too."
Kristen said various lines have been selling well including office wear for people returning to work and for those still working from home, she says casual wear like joggers and country jumpers have been selling too.
"A lot of parents have been in today buying clothes for their kids and that's been doing really well."
On the Pulteneytown side, Jim Bain at The Gift House on Dempster Street was serving his last customer of the day on Monday. "It's been lovely being open again and people are delighted to be in. It's just been like a normal day's trading, which has been just fine," said Jim who sells a variety of goods from stationery to greeting cards and local books.
"The rain didn't make much difference as we have good parking outside. It's easy for folk to draw up, come in and usually get served quite quickly. We're very fortunate in that regard – our regulars can just park at the door and come in."
On Tuesday morning, Thurso town centre was buzzing with happy shoppers. When asked how they felt to be back out and about they unanimously agreed "it's great".
At Brabster Street, the Lindsey Gallacher Studio and Workshop witnessed a steady flow of customers perusing and purchasing art and craft goods on the first day of opening.
An established artist, Lindsey has been using her lockdown time productively, designing new products and speaking to other artists. "I've been liaising with new artists and makers to come up with ideas, some of which will be in the shop," she said. Lindsey is also exploring new lines including the work of two women from Dunnet who collaborate to make bespoke items such as ladies' purses.
Carolyn Swanson and her daughter Rachel were delighted to be back in Lindsey's shop and were making some purchases. Carolyn said: "I've not been out for about six months due to ill health so this is the most excitement I've had in a while."
Also in the first floor complex next to Lindsey's shop, is dressmaker and tailor Gail Russell who had not officially opened her business yet but was busy making preparations for Wednesday.
"The lockdown was really hard. The cancellations of weddings had a very negative effect on the business but they're starting to come back slowly and hopefully it will pick up soon."
Down below the creative complex, where Gail and Lindsey operate from, and on the corner of Brabster Street is a new business started up by Kyle Slinger called Olive. The café had not opened its doors to sit down customers yet but has been trading for some time with takeaway drinks and food sold to the public from a hatch.
"The name, Olive, actually comes from my great grandmother but also gives an impression of food and warmth," said Kyle.
"We're not actually opening our doors until May 7 so we can give the best training to all our staff. I want it to be the best it can be for when we open. On Tuesday next week we will do a Taster Day where we will fill tables up with different food and people can come in and try samples."
Stan Morrison at Tall Tales bookshop on Grove Lane said business was quite slow on Tuesday morning.
"We've had people coming in but they're all wanting to sell rather than buy. Some of the stuff has been rubbish so I didn't buy it. People must be needing the money."
A former storeroom above a popular Thurso newsagents on Olrig Street, Jim Bews, is now open for business. T's Café has all the social distancing protocol in place, including a long perspex shield around the cooking area where chef Anne-Marie was busy working away.
The café and newsagents are both owned by Josuva Selvanesan who named the town centre establishment after his daughters Thivya and Trisha.
"We've done a lot of work inside during lockdown. There is a shield around the kitchen area and new seats for a breakfast bar," said Josuva.
"We're slowly getting customers coming in but people need time to feel comfortable to come out again after the lockdown. It will take a bit of time."
All in all, the feeling in both Wick and Thurso is relief and excitement that lockdown restrictions have been lifted but as Josuva says it will surely "take a bit of time" to get back to business as normal again.