Workers add the finishing touches to the paint as trucks arrive with merchandise for stores, barrels of beer, a crate of tonic rolled across the cobblestones. After being sorry for so long, the heart of London is preparing to put on a show.
Everyone is hoping that April 12 will mark the start of the recovery. Covent Garden is gearing up for restaurants to serve food outside and non-essential stores to reopen.
By Monday, the famous old flower market will have 800 outdoor restaurant seats, outdoor heaters and large umbrellas, waiters, fine dining, alcohol and, they hope, plenty of punters.
But will Londoners flock? Or have they become too accustomed to Deliveroo and Amazon now?
Covent Garden Director Michelle McGrath said: “Covent Garden has been around for 500 years, we are confident that we will be here for a very long time.
“I think those two things can coexist and every time we’ve had a lockdown and have had a loosening of the lockdown we’ve seen restaurants full, stores full, queues to get in, people getting in. connecting to each other. on a human level – but also here to experience the best of London. “
For many, the reality of the pandemic has struck home with images of central London emptying just before the first lockdown in March 2020.
How could the hustle and bustle of 44 million visitors a year to Covent Garden go away? At the time, traders at Jubilee Market said they hoped it would be a brief stop. They worried about feeding their families and paying the bills.
But the covered market, while being allowed to reopen on the 12th, will not yet be.
Trader Andy Graham, 65, who has worked the stalls since 1978, said last summer they didn’t have enough work to make it worth it.
“When we came back the market was sorry, the West End was sorry,” he said.
“There were no foreign tourists and the government said ‘don’t come to the center’.
“Now we have the right to reopen, but there are no museums to go to, there are no theaters to go to. There is no point in opening my business until there is reasonable attendance. “
During 2020, the valuation of the Covent Garden estate fell by a quarter.
The owner, Capco, had to restructure the leases and waive the rent of the tenants in difficulty.
Some cafes continued to serve take-out, but high-end stores, with the exception of the Apple Store, were closed.
At Jubilee Market, only one man continued: florist Melvin Taylor, 66, started selling shrubs to become a garden center.
“I miss the Opera,” he says. “It was huge for business. And theaters and hotels. And office workers, and tourists. The Waldorf and the Savoy, they will only open on May 17th. So many won’t be open until then.
“I think the recovery will take a lot longer than people think, especially in central London. Look at the streets here – it’s empty. The only people walking around are the traffic cops. “
More than anywhere else, Covent Garden is a place where time has stood, where livelihoods have been suspended, but now the first buzz is coming back and you can just start to feel it – London is coming to life.
But it is a slow, gradual and uncertain renewal.
The “Hello London” brand is shining in the sun, but the London tourism industry ecosystem is feeding on something that is still missing and will be missing for some time to come. Nothing will be as it was until the panel can read “Hello World”.