Shop owners and staff have been busy re-arranging stock, displaying their wares and sprucing up their outlets in preparation for what they hope will be a ‘grand’ opening tomorrow, when they are finally allowed to welcome customers back into their premises.

April 26 marks a new phase for the lifting of measures designed to curb the spread of COVID-19, with restrictions already eased at schools, care homes for the elderly and for religious activities.

It is now the turn of ‘non-essential’ services – clothes shops, hairdressers, florists and so on – to get up and running again.

Groups of four will also be allowed in public – up from two – and four households can gather in private residences, also doubling from two.

This is the second time since the coronavirus pandemic hit the island that non-essential shops and services had to shut. They have been closed since March 10.

How are they preparing for their ‘big day’?

The general feelings are of excitement, happiness… but also nervousness.

Shama Patel, owner of ‘I am Indian Soul’, admitted to feeling anxious. Having left London back in January 2020 to open an Indian fashion brand outlet in Sliema, she is hoping for an “amazing week”.

“Because we deserve it. But if I am being realistic, I am also a bit nervous.”

It has been a very stressful time for a new business, she says.

I hope it will be an amazing week, because we deserve it

“I hope we will be okay, especially small businesses who really felt the impact of the virus. The last three months of 2020 were very difficult for us since it was so quiet, so realistically it might not be so busy this time.”

The CEO of the Malta Chamber of SMEs, Abigail Mamo has called on the government to issue the COVID-19 vouchers to be spent on retail businesses before it distributes those that apply to hotels and restaurants.

Photo: Matthew MirabelliPhoto: Matthew Mirabelli

Another shop owner in Sliema is worried that business will be slow for the first few weeks after reopening.

“The first week will always be a bit quiet, and sales and growth will be gradual, which is similar to what happened last year. Business didn’t pick up until after a month or so,” he said.

“There will be people going around the shops and buying things of course, but it’s going to take time.”

Still, there was a feeling of excitement about welcoming customers back into their empty shops.

The owner of outlet Billabong said: “We are very excited. We spent the time during shutdown cleaning up, rearranging the shop and ordering new stock for our customers.”

He said sales might be slow at first, especially since restaurants and cafes will still be closed, but it was the first step forward.

Valenina, the manager of Sliema make-up store Lucy, said her team were prepared to welcome customers back. “We have a small shop, but we are taking all the necessary measures and precautions for our customers to feel safe,” she said.

Consumers seem to be just as hopeful about the reopening: “The world has stopped, and no matter how bad the virus is, we need to keep going or else the economy will collapse,” said Sliema resident Charles Vella.

One woman said that with COVID-19 cases under control, it was a good time to open.

“Hopefully with the positive rate of vaccinations, we will be on the right back to have a better summer,” she said.

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