After three tough months in strict lockdown, businesses can finally see some light at the end of the tunnel as restrictions gradually begin to ease today.
With the “stay at home” message being lifted, many traders are rolling up their sleeves to welcome more customers and get back to some relative normality.
The first minister this week announced that people will no longer have to stay at home as much, and will now be allowed to travel freely within their local area – for leisure and to do some shopping.
Although transport rules between different local authorities remain the same, the new “stay local” guidance has given hope and relief for residents and business owners in areas like the Highlands and Aberdeenshire which offer plenty of room to explore.
Boost for local trading
Coinciding with the Easter weekend, the changes offer an opportunity for a significant boost to local trading after months of struggle.
Butcher John Sinclair, who co-owns HM Sheridan in Ballater, said he “can’t get the smile off his face” and is “really excited” at customers being able to visit from further away in the county.
The 55-year-old, whose firm supplies the Royal Family when they are staying at Balmoral, said: “We are going forward and being positive after all the doom and gloom for the last year.
“The fact that it’s happening right before Easter is also a real boost, because we have lots of orders for the weekend and hopefully we’ll get to see some new faces as well – we are getting ready for probably the busiest weekend since Christmas.
“The last few months have been quiet, but now the Aberdeenshire trade is starting to pick up again and we are hoping to see work double in the next weeks and looking forward, maybe getting back to some normality around summer.
“It’s excellent and I can’t get the smile off my face, genuinely.”
Owner of one of Aberdeenshire’s top fish and chip shops, Calum Richardson, also welcomed the news, saying it will be good both for business and people’s mental health.
The Bay in Stonehaven usually attracts scores of people from all over the region, eager to get a taste of the award-winning local delicacy.
However, Mr Richardson stressed that even though restrictions are easing, people still ought to be sensible.
He said: “We’ve tried to keep our opening restricted around what the government guidance was, because the last thing I wanted was to attract loads of folk sitting on the beach eating fish and chips.
“I’m still going to keep tight and carry on with the click and collect, so we can control how many people are coming in and avoid any queues forming.
“But at least now, more people can come to Stonehaven as they can travel a bit further and that will help the whole town.
“People can now go out for a walk with their friends, sit and have something to eat or buy their fish and chips while walking along the beach, and that’s great both for the business, but for mental health as well.
“As long as everyone is being sensible, we can get more businesses back open and get the economy thriving again, because everything is flat at the moment.”
Further easing of lockdown restrictions for businesses
Along with lifting some of the travelling restrictions, Nicola Sturgeon has also given the go-ahead for the reopening of some sectors of the economy on April 5.
A more significant easing will come on Monday, when hairdressers and barbers, garden centres and non-essential click and collect will be able to get back in business.
Simon Fraser, the managing director of Ben Reid Garden Centre in Aberdeen, is among those who will be spending the weekend getting a colourful array of plants ready to go on sale next week.
Derek Ritchie, the chairman of the We Are Inverurie business improvement district group, said this will play a vital part in reviving local town centres to their former glory.
He added: “Businesses in Inverurie are really looking forward to it and they can’t wait to get open and welcome more customers.
“Obviously there is a little bit of nervousness whether people will come out straight away after so many months of hard restrictions, but there’s been a real trend towards shopping local and supporting local businesses, so I have the feeling that people will take that opportunity to go out and about.
“We’ve got some new businesses in the town opening as well when restrictions allow – including a brand new hairdresser and a ladies boutique – and that’s a real positive.
“It’s been really tough for some of the businesses and walking through Inverurie town centre is so different at the moment, but I think seeing it buzzing again would be fantastic.”
New lease of life for businesses in the Highlands
In the Highlands, businesses have also had all hands on deck getting ready to give their premises a new lease of life.
Rebecca Weymer, 27, and her mum Teresa Weymer, 58, have spent the last two weeks transforming their cafe in John O’Groats to make it a Covid-safe place for customers.
The Stacks Coffee House will open for click and collect service for the first time since it shut doors in December – offering coffee, cakes and bakes three days a week throughout the next month.
Rebecca said: “We didn’t physically open and kept it online, because we are around 15-20 miles from Wick and Thurso, so it wouldn’t have been right to encourage people to get out.
“But as of today, obviously people can travel a bit more and we can’t wait to welcome our regulars, maybe see some new faces and see the place a bit busier once again.
“We’ve moved all of our cake display right to the window so everything can be seen from outside and nobody has to come in or have long contact with staff, but we can still operate and serve our customers.
“Everybody is really excited to even just have a good cup of coffee and feel like some normality is returning, so we are looking forward to it.”
Michael Golding of Visit Inverness Loch Ness said: “The reopening of a number of business sectors provides a genuine sense of hope that we are on the path to recovery.
“These businesses will act as a leading light, demonstrating the safe and responsible practices that enable us to continue on our recovery path.
“We must all act responsibly and follow the guidance from Scottish Government by staying local, supporting local and by doing so we can look forward to a brighter future.”