The world is gradually coming out of lockdown and everyone is hoping that there won’t be a second wave of the pandemic. We can’t stay at home forever or the economy will collapse, so I believe that getting back to normal as much as possible, while remaining careful, is the way forward. Perhaps the universal slogan should be: Use your common sense. I’m feeling much more optimistic and confident after visiting a couple of retailers this week.
Here in England, non-essential shops, including photographic retailers, were allowed to open from this week. We have a few more weeks to wait for cafes and restaurants to start up again, but at least it’s a welcome start.
New optimism as flagship store opens
It’s encouraging to see photographic retailers re-opening their doors, even with social distancing restrictions in place, and I’m particularly pleased not to have heard of any casualties of the lockdown.
On the contrary, at least one retailer, Wex, has chosen this week to launch a new flagship store in central Milton Keynes, the 1960s-planned “new town” which, unusual for a European city, is built on the grid model, with many open spaces, scattered shopping malls and fast road communication. Situated 50 miles north of London, MK is definitely something unusual. I like it a lot and have often thought I’d like to live in the area. And now there’s a big photo retailer in town, it is even more alluring.
Wex Photo Video has branches in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland and the new showroom in MK brings the total to nine. I drove up from London yesterday to meet store manager John Murphy who many readers will remember from his time with Leica UK. The 3,000-square-foot store was originally scheduled to open in April but the launch was delayed until this week. All other Wex stores are now fully operational, with the necessary precautions in place.
John is very optimistic about the future and is looking forward to a successful summer of trading. With its central location and easy parking, the MK branch is a good place to go for hassle-free demonstrations and painless purchasing. He is taking every precaution to ensure that stock remains virus-free, with the use of plastic coverings for demonstration equipment and quarantine for incoming part-exchange stock. I suppose it is something we will all have to get used to.
Bring it on in Chiswick
On a smaller scale, one of London’s few remaining family photographic businesses, Chiswick Camera Centre, re-opened for business this morning – again, with full Covid-19 precautions in place. I called in to grab a couple of photos and found Andy Sands in good spirits after a very busy morning. He seems to have weathered the storm well, although for the next few weeks he is running the store himself, with opening hours limited to 10-5 from Wednesday through to Saturday.
As with Wex and most other retailers, Andy has been keeping the mail-order business going throughout lockdown. But he readily agrees that there’s no real substitute for a bricks-and-mortar store – particularly one with the friendly level of service and advice available from small independent retailers.
Coming out of lockdown is hard for all retailers but, as far as photographic stores are concerned, recovery should come sooner rather than later. It will take a week or two for customers to regain their confidence, but I am sure things will soon be back in full swing.
I do feel sorry for cafés and restaurants which are still out in lockdown limbo, with the earliest possible opening date still some three weeks away in England. And, even then, it will be difficult to make a profit because of the continuing social distancing measures.
At least we are making a start, and this is reflected in countries throughout the world. My view is that we need to get the economy moving as quickly as possible and to do that we need to use our common sense and not rely slavishly on government diktat.