Business chiefs in the north-east have enthusiastically welcomed the confirmation that they will be able to reopen from Monday.
All shops will reopen along with hospitality – although indoor venues are unable to serve alcohol until next month. The tourism sector will also open again, welcoming visitors for the first time this year.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed the April 26 easing would go ahead as planned at a briefing, saying the case numbers were going in the “right direction”.
Business owners across the region, who have been looking forward to welcoming back customers for months, said they couldn’t wait to throw open their doors to the “old faithfuls”.
‘It’s been a tough winter’
Stuart Devine, the operations director for the Ashvale fish restaurant in Aberdeen, said: “We’re delighted, obviously.
“We’re excited, and we’re just hoping that it’s fast forward from now. Here’s hoping this is it.”
He added: “Everything’s getting planned just now, we’re all working like mad to get everything ready.
“We can’t wait to get our doors open again and see some of our old faithful back, because we’ve obviously missed them – there’s some customers we haven’t seen since Christmas Eve.
“It’s been a tough winter, so I think people are desperate to get some sort of sanity back in their life and talk to friends.”
Tony Story, of the Kingsmills and Ness Walk hotels in Inverness, echoed this thoughts, adding: “It’s welcome, it’s extremely welcome. We need to get open, we’ve been through this before.”
Hotels are open for business – and need guests to come back
Even more important than allowing local customers back through the hotel restaurant doors is the potential for visitors from across the UK to now book a stay.
He said: “That’s got to happen, and it’s got to happen quick.
“The indications are at the moment that it’s not happening, forward bookings are really quite low.
“I hope that today’s announcements will give more confidence, because we need to roll out the red carpet.
“We need to tell people Scotland is wide open for business, we need you back, you’ll be as safe as we can make you, and you’ll have a good time. It’s really important to do that.”
Stuart Milne, general manager of Aberdeen jeweller Finnies and chairman of the Greater George Street Traders Association, said: “Altogether, we are positive. We have to be.
“We are looking forward, we’re excited about welcoming our customers back next week and we look forward to seeing them.”
He added: “We have a week’s worth of appointments at the moment, notably for wedding rings, which are some of the most popular items – that’s what the lockdown has done.”
‘People have been missing actual shops’
Several of the business leaders have pointed towards the success of the lockdown easing in England, where non-essential shops have been open since April 12.
Jackie Cuddy, the manager of Eastgate Shopping Centre in Inverness, said: “I’ve spoken to friends down in London and if the return to shopping here is the same, we will be very happy.
“Online shopping during lockdown has been great, but people have been missing actual shops and being able to touch the clothes.
“Going to the shops is now an occasion, a way to socialise with friends – people will be making a day of it and going out for brunch or lunch too.”
Craig Stevenson, the manager of Aberdeen’s Bon Accord Centre, said he was “delighted” to welcome back retailers back to their stores from April 26.
He added: “Enhanced safety measures remain in place at the centre including a keep left system, hand sanitising stations, touch point cleaning and more.
“We look forward to welcoming customers back for a safe and enjoyable shopping experience.”
Aberdeen Inspired CEO Adrian Watson said the city still has a lot to offer despite being battered by a difficult lockdown.
He said: “It is well documented the current challenge to our city centre and indeed most others, but Aberdeen City Centre still provides the strongest retail offering north of the central belt, complimented by a fantastic and diverse range of hospitality and leisure.
“These businesses have been working hard behind the scenes to prepare for Monday’s opening and look forward to safely welcoming the north east public back into the heart of our city, at a time when it has never been more needed.”
Support and funding required in months ahead
Moray Chamber of Commerce praised firms for adapting over the last 12 months, but stressed it was crucial support remains as the situation eases.
In a statement, the chamber said: “We know how hard this lockdown has been for many businesses, but businesses have adapted whether that’s through creating a safe environment to adhere to the Covid guidance or adapting with the help of technology to continue trading.
“However, it’s so important that the support and funding remains in place for these businesses for as long as the restrictions are in place, especially as many will be operating at limited capacity.
“We know that consumer habits have changed over the pandemic however, we also know how important it is for people to continue to support local businesses and keep money in the region for economic recovery.”