To hide or not to hide… that is the question now at Bishop’s Stortford

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In the bustling Hertfordshire market town of Bishop’s Stortford, the government’s decision to drop compulsory mask wearing, social distancing and registration of premises for English businesses from July 19 has been greeted with concern by business owners business this weekend.

“It seems very wrong of the government to let companies make the decision. It puts us in a very uncomfortable position, ”said Jackie Colman, owner of Hair by Elements and Skin Clinic by Urban Spa, to the sound of roaring hairdryers and sharp scissors.

Despite the change in government guidelines for face coverings and other Covid safety measures, Colman and his 26 employees at the nearby barber and beauty salon have decided to continue wearing face coverings and will ask their clients to do so. likewise, even after you have ceased to do so. be mandatory.

“Some people are anxious to throw away the masks and others want to continue,” she said. “Our policy is that we owe a duty of care to our team members and guests seated here. “

As a “close contact” business, where hairdressers or beauticians often lean on clients to cut their hair or perform facials, Colman said that seemed like the right course of action.

Danielle Thomas of the South Street Pantry says she will continue to cover her face. Photography: Antonio Olmos / The Observer

Since the reopening in April, staff in close contact services must wear medical masks as well as a visor or clear glasses, while their clients must also wear a face covering, unless removal is essential.

When the Observer When visiting Bishop’s Stortford, the majority of friends and families who visited the city’s shops and hospitality spots, or strolled through the city’s Jackson Square shopping center, wore masks.

However, opinions are divided on whether the government should have given companies more leeway on how to proceed, following its change in Covid safety advice from July 19.

There have been different decisions among the country’s more well-known retail chains on how to approach the new guidelines.

Marks & Spencer and H&M have joined Waterstones and Sainsbury’s – all with branches in Bishop’s Stortford – in asking customers and staff to continue wearing masks.

“I’m pretty worried,” said Danielle Thomas, owner of the South Street Pantry. “I hope this is the right direction but I don’t want to fall back like what happened last year in November and December. “

Jayne Ralph, left, and Katie Charman at the Muse boutique in Bishop's Stortford
Jayne Ralph, left, and Muse Boutique’s Katie Charman can’t wait to lose their face masks. Photography: Antonio Olmos / The Observer

Domestic and foreign trade has been strong at the 33-year-old cafe since it reopened, and not much will change after Monday. Thomas has decided to ask her staff to continue wearing face masks, and she will encourage customers to do the same when entering or walking around the venue.

Like many hotel business owners, Thomas has also recently faced staff shortages, after two workers – including his baker – were ‘pinched’ by NHS testing and traceability, and were given a asked to isolate himself.

At Atkins Restaurant, owned by Daisy Conn and her partner James Atkins, what to do on July 19 remains an unanswered question. “I have to make a decision before Monday, which is stressful,” Conn said. “I am in two minds. I know this is supposed to be our path to freedom but I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to wear them and people don’t feel safe, or wear them and deter people.

After opening the restaurant in February 2020, just weeks before the first Covid lockdown, Conn is hoping the new lifting of restrictions will allow the company to do business normally, including hosting parties.

“The reception rooms were just redundant as we weren’t allowed to accommodate groups of six people from more than two households,” she said.

Carla Marshall, owner of Carla's Curios and Creations in Bishop's Stortford
Carla Marshall, owner of Carla’s Curios and Creations, hopes the move away from face coverings will boost the business. Photography: Antonio Olmos / The Observer

On a bright, sunny day, groups of teenagers and retirees had sought the refreshing solace of Ace of Lanes bowling alley, where manager Jo Seabright is also eager to welcome larger groups to the site and be able to throw in party parties. ‘children. .

“The government seems very undecided at the moment as to whether or not it wants masks. For our staff, this will be their personal choice, ”she said. Many young staff no longer want to wear face covers, even if they are not fully immunized, but Seabright will continue to wear their sparkling black mask.

Bishop’s Stortford club-goers will have to do without their local nightclub a little longer. The owners of Ace of Lanes don’t plan to open their Bacchus nightclub next door until early August.

Down the street at women’s fashion retailer Muse Boutique, sales consultants Katie Charman and Jayne Ralph can’t wait to take off their face covers. Along with the other three members of the sales team, they are fully vaccinated – like many of their customers – and are regularly tested for Covid.

Standing beside the shelves of floral and bright print summer dresses, Charman and Ralph said they think many shoppers would prefer to make up their own minds.

Jo Seabright, manager of Ace of Lanes bowling alley in Bishop's Stortford.
Jo Seabright, director of Ace of Lanes bowling alley, will let her staff choose whether or not to wear masks. Photographie : Antonio Olmos/The Guardian

The mask requirement “has definitely affected trade,” Charman said. “Some people haven’t tried things, it turns them off. “

“Many of our regulars who have been coming for years have been direct in letting us know their preference. Especially if they have hot flashes, ”Ralph added. In the future, if they don’t come because we don’t wear masks, we will put one on. “

Carla Marshall, owner of interior boutique Carla’s Curios and Creations, sees the end of mask wear as a step in the right direction after a difficult period of stop-start trading.

“I’m glad the choice is there. I don’t think it will really make a difference to me, ”Marshall said, adding that she is exempt from wearing a mask. “I really want to see normalcy and people resume shopping. “

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