The risks and rewards of reopening my shop

Cat Brandwood of Toscanaccio in Winchester would be happier to stick with deliveries for a while longer to minimise the risk of spreading infection. But she suspects she’ll be opening her doors on June 15 and aiming for some sort of normality

When lockdown was announced on March 23 I had already decided that I was going to close my doors to customers and operate a delivery service only for the time being. My other staff had clearly been uncomfortable working during their last shifts and I was increasingly concerned about bringing home the virus.

Here we are 11 weeks later; I’ve spent the equivalent of a week’s working hours driving around in a souped-up Fiat 500 that is wholly unsuited to being a delivery vehicle, I’ve developed a habit of talking to myself in my empty shop and yet I’m still not keen on the idea of throwing open the doors again and regaining my sanity.

As someone who, it turns out, really thrives on human interaction, why am I not keen to bring back the soul of my shop – interaction with my customers?

Cat Brandwood

The advice we’ve been given essentially amounts to the following: Do a risk assessment, practise social distancing, everyone wash their hands, clean more frequently. This is exactly what was being practised in the shop pre-lockdown and it wasn’t good enough then. I don’t feel reassured that I’ll be doing the right thing by throwing open the doors on June 15, but I suspect that for the business to thrive I must.

As a business with fewer than five employees I don’t have to have a written risk assessment, but it has been reported that there will be random spot checks by HSE so it seems that it would be prudent to have this written down. The public (customers/staff) have also been encouraged to report conditions that they think are unsafe.

How much responsibility do I have? Will I find myself under investigation if there is an outbreak that can be traced back to my store? That is certainly what would happen if the business was the source of a salmonella outbreak.

Salmonella isn’t very easy to catch from talking to your customers, though. The government has made it clear that there are options for enforcement including fines and jail sentences of up to two years for businesses not protecting staff and customers. Just how far should I be going in ensuring everyone is protected? One independent business on my street will be supplying disposable gloves and facemasks at the door and requiring that they be worn in store.

My risk assessment currently labels the risk of opening as very high. As the only full-time member of staff, there is a real risk to business continuity as my being ill would shut the place. Delivery to my customers has largely been successful, especially in those first few weeks of panic, and I’d be much happier if this were to continue. I also know that as other businesses open up around me – businesses that haven’t been as lucky as I am to maintain a revenue stream during this period – that I need to be open too.

Even when I open again, I fear that a little bit of soul has been lost that will take time to recover. Friday evenings were often spent with customers clutching a well-earned glass of wine whilst I talked them through some wines for their weekend. It was a bustling place that was full of life, jollity, and the odd secret spilled. But mostly it was full of people: something I probably won’t see again for a long time.