Shoppers queue as high street stores reopen in England

Non-essential stores reopen for first time in 12 weeks with Primark among the busiest

Eager shoppers queued early outside some stores on London’s Oxford Street on Monday morning as non-essential shops were allowed to reopen for the first time in England since lockdown almost 12 weeks ago.

Up to 50 people stood in line outside the NikeTown store on Oxford Circus before opening time with a similar number waiting to get into Sports Direct.

Information urging people to respect the 2m social distancing rules were on display in shop windows, while hand sanitisers greeted shoppers at store entrances and all staff wore face coverings. Shop assistants in Zara sported black masks with the company’s logo, and in Next they wore hospital-style face shields.

This was far from business as usual, however. Between a quarter and a third of shops on Oxford Street remained closed, including big high street names such as shoe retailer Office and the Accessorize fashion chain.


Prime minister Boris Johnson acknowledged over the weekend that people might be nervous about returning to the high street after so long away but insisted they "should shop and shop with confidence".

One-way systems

His message was repeated by Paul Scully, the minister for small business, on Monday morning. “The high street is going to be a different place to what it was before, with the one-way systems, with the hand sanitisers, and with people not trying clothes on in the same way,” he said.

“But, nonetheless, it is safe to shop. I would encourage people to be sensible, work with the people in the shop but do go out and shop, and start opening our economy gradually and carefully.”

Winifred Adeyemi and her friend were among the first people lining up outside of one of Zara’s three stores on the country’s most famous high street.

“We’re here because we’re free to continue our past habits,” she said. They were also eyeing a special collection that has sold out online: “We know exactly what we want,” Ms Adeyemi said. With some items discounted up to 70 per cent, the trip to the store “is worth the risk”, she joked.

The pair, both wearing face masks, were two of about 20 people in the queue and said they shown up early to beat the crowds. But within the first hour of opening, there was little sign of the throngs of shoppers from pre-coronavirus times that often made this central London thoroughfare hard to navigate.


The longest queues on the high street in Southend, Essex, were for Primark and Sports Direct, both of which appeal to value-focused shoppers.

Kelly Farrell, out with her sister and nieces, said they would be “spending for sure” in the seaside town’s branch of Primark. “We went into lockdown just before the summer started. And they don’t stop growing,” she said, referring to the children.

Ms Farrell said she was not concerned about the risk of the virus. “I know people have different views on this, but let’s face it, it’s not going away. We’ve just got to get used to it”.

Luke Howell, a fitter for AO World, said he felt it was “slightly too soon” to be reopening shops as he stood in queue for Sports Direct. “But we’ve got to start getting people out. A bit of air and some socialising with other people will make everyone feel better,” he added.

There were also signs of the cautious approach that retailers are taking towards reopening. The town’s branches of Next, New Look, Body Shop and River Island remain closed for now. So too is the Debenhams department store that anchors one of Southend’s two shopping centres.

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020