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New Normal - Old Ways

After 3 months of being closed and not working, I really needed to do something. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the time off, a well earned rest and some quality family time, but I was ready to start back. I unofficially opened a week before shops could open, just selling drinks, ice cream and slush, take away only, within government guidelines. I officially opened a week later along with all the other shops on Barry island and in wales. The first few weeks were weird. Trade was still decent considering what happened, but I would probably say the average days were less than busy, and hot sunny days were busier than normal.

To start with, I was doing reduced hours and two in and two out in the shop. This increased to 4 in at a time when I was more comfortable. On the busy days, I had to pay someone to manage the amount of customers coming in at a time, other wise it was just a free for all. People really didn’t care about the amount of people in the shop at once, it seemed only I cared. I was bemused at how many people can’t read a large chalk board blocking the entrance which says ‘max 4 ppl’ at a time and the amount of people that read it, counted 4 people and still walked in anyway, sometimes with their children. ‘Aw sorry, I thought it 4 was per family’ ...... yeah ok! The amount of times I heard ‘but my friends already in’ ‘I’m with them’ even tho there were 4 people in the shop already. The arguments I’ve had, excuses people made, it was hard work. Like I really want to spend half my day controlling this! Managing the door became a job on its own, it was draining, employing someone to manage it was the only way. I employed someone to manage the door at least 30 days this summer. Minimum 3 hours, maximum 8 hours at a time, on busy days. So you can roughly see how much this cost me as a business. But, being busy was a good problem to have; right?

As lockdown was eased Barry Island became busier and busier, plus the weather had been pretty good most of summer. There was a period during July where I didn’t really enjoy working at the shop. It seemed everyone descended to the island when they could. Large groups, drinking heavily causing fights, lack of social distancing, anti social behaviour etc, it wasn’t pretty or enjoyable at times. It seemed like everyday a riot van would be bombing towards to promenade with blue lights and sirens on. EVERY FLIPPING DAY!!!! fights, blue lights, large groups and a bad atmosphere. There was one day in July where it was so busy, full of people drunk, large groups of youths, fights, and such a bad atmosphere that I just didn’t want to go to work the next day. I did go, but there was a point where I just felt like I’d had enough already. I’d only been open 6 weeks or so, but everyday just seemed a battle between hassle and managing people. I even took the odd day off in July and closed as quite frankly, I just couldn’t be bothered dealing with it.

By August, lockdown had eased further, there was a larger police presence everyday on Barry island and it felt like there was an atmosphere change, with more families coming down. Pubs, cafes, restaurants, gyms had re-opened. August was extremely busy, people were more confident, more people were heading on staycations, more abroad holidays were cancelled, and Gavin and Stacey fans finally getting to visit Barry after the Xmas special.

It was busier than expected in August, even the average days were busy. Days you didn’t expect to see so many people, it was absolutely rammed. There was definitely a change in people’s perception on wearing masks, mainly tourists from England/Scotland etc who thought it was mandatory to wear one. Although I think the most popular place to wear a mask is around someone’s chin. Somebody even had the mask strapped to their elbow.

August was much more enjoyable to work. It was a great atmosphere and plenty of long days. 9-8/9pm. It was very busy.

I was trying to not make many orders this summer for new stock. I made some on a few essentials but tried my hardest to get rid of lots of excess stock which had been lying around for ages. The majority I manage to get rid of, and I probably only made about 25% of orders of what I would normally make. Mainly these came in August as it was so busy so I needed to replenish some items. Beach items etc.

Few observations from the summer

Social distancing - this went out of the window early on. It’s a Thing of the past. Honestly, hardly anyone cares anymore. Groups of people trying to enter the shop when it’s full. Nobody cares. I did my best all summer to social distance but at times it was impossible. I can’t see social distancing being a thing next summer. Even if it is, people don’t care now. Imagine another 6 months of this, people will care less.

Handling cash - before the summer, there was more of a push to pay by contactless payment to ‘stop the spread’ - in the beginning I was probably encouraging more to pay by card. Over time, I was less concerned about people paying with cash. I’ve handled cash all summer, notes and coins, and can honestly say, I have zero concern about catching covid 19 from handling cash. In fact, I’d encourage more businesses to start accepting cash and people to pay using more cash as card companies take a fair bit from card payments. It all adds up.

Wearing masks - as time went on more people were wearing masks. I’d say around 30% of customers. I wore a mask a handful of times during summer. Majority of the time I didn’t and probably won’t going forward. I’m also not concerned about people coming into my small shop without wearing masks. It’s been a busy summer, hundreds of people have entered my shop, majority not wearing masks. I feel comfortable in my own surroundings to not wear one.

Desk Screen - Sometimes it was pointless having the screen on my shop counter. The anount of people who would just walk round the side of to talk to me, I didn’t understand it.

Lockdown - I think we’re about to close as normal life as we’ll get for a while now. But in all honesty, I’m sure many people aren’pbothered about rules and regulations at present. Everyone has done what they wanted most of the summer anyway.

All in all, it’s been a difficult but good summer. I’ve had arguments with people, kicked somebody out of the shop for refusing to comply, refused to serve someone who anti bac’d her hands and then put the note in her mouth and tried to pay with it. But I ‘bounced back’ that was key. The Island was busy most days. I also managed to get rid of loads of old stock which had been there a while, so I turned stock in money, and my new orders were limited.

I think early Autumn might be slightly busier than normal on Barry Island, due to staycations, furlough on until the end of October and children back in school, so parents might come down for a stroll and a break. The winter, well we’ll just have to wait and see how it goes.

Overall, it’s hard to say if I’m in a better or worse position from the pandemic than if it never happened. We had a very long period of hot weather during lockdown and the island would’ve been busy all the time. But I’ve managed to clear lots of old stock, all of which had been paid for prior to lockdown. Right now, I don’t think I have any concern about the immediate future for the business. Winter is always quiet, and I think I’m more prepared than ever for a quiet winter. But like most, I think il just take it one week at a time and see how it goes.

If you visited Barry Island this summer, I think you would find it hard to believe we were in the middle of a worldwide health pandemic. It started as a new normal, but soon went back to old ways.

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