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The high street faced unprecedented strain when the coronavirus lockdown came into force. Exactly a month after shops started reopening, BBC News spoke to businesses in Brentwood, Essex, to find out what it is like now.
It pays to be beautiful in Brentwood.
The home of reality TV show The Only Way is Essex, the High Street has a grooming and pampering service for every part of the face, body – and pet.
But during lockdown, the shutters were down at these and other so-called “non-essential services”. Has business picked up again since lockdown was eased?
Anneliese Sid, 29, owner of The Greenhouse plant shop, opened her business just eight weeks before the lockdown. She said it gave her time to focus on her social media strategy and build her brand in the area.
Her social media followers now total 5,000 – a five-fold increase since the start of the lockdown and Ms Sid said there had been an influx of customers post-lockdown keen to visit her store as a result.
“We could recommend what plants could go in what rooms and by the end of the lockdown people were dying to get down here and see the shop,” she said.
“It gave us the time to offer a bespoke service and we really enjoyed doing that.”
She said the next challenge would be to implement shoppers wearing compulsory facemasks as about 90% of her customers currently did not.
“We’re happy to go with the guidelines and we’ve been rigorous with everything else,” she said.
She also saw the lockdown as an opportunity to work closely with other businesses.
“We just came together and shouted from the same hymn sheet about each other.
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“We also did click-and-collect with other businesses in Brentwood so customers could order a book and pick it up from here as well as a plant.”
Jamie Burton, 26, has also just opened his dog grooming business, Pet Spa Essex, after taking on his shop premises a year ago.
“It required a lot of building work, then when it was time to open we went into lockdown,” he said.
However, he remained upbeat and is convinced he’s made the right decision to branch out on his own after eight years in the industry working both at Harrods and with one of the country’s top dog groomers.
“It is always scary opening anyway, but I was confident. I have won lots of awards and I knew there was a niche in Brentwood for someone like me.
“I’ve been dog grooming since I left school so I had built a good foundation and it was the right time.”
Mr Burton said footfall since the easing of lockdown had not returned to previous levels, but he believed his business would keep busy due to its nature and his investment in the building.
“Dogs will always need grooming,” he said.
“Unlike having your hair cut, a dog has to have its hair cut because it grows into their eyes, they gets mats in their pads.
“It’s an Instagram-able shop, but you can’t just have a good-looking salon as you have to be good at what you do too.”
Just off the High Street amid a cluster of independent shops lining Crown Street is the Chicken and Frog bookshop, which relocated there in January.
Natasha Radford, 46, opened the specialist children’s shop almost eight years ago and said the fact she also offered tuition helped it to “weather the massive drop in book sales” during the lockdown.
“We had always wanted to be in Crown Street and so we pounced on it, but obviously the timing wasn’t ideal,” she said.
“Luckily we’ve got the two strands to the shop and have been incredibly busy.
“I was a teacher for 20 years… so I decided to put the two together. You have to make your shop part of the community as people can buy the same products elsewhere for a couple of pounds less, so you have to offer them something else.”
With people now venturing out, she said her week-on-week book sales had increased, which she attributed in part to customer loyalty engendered through free in-store workshops and running online storytelling sessions and book clubs.
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“Before the lockdown business was going up-and-up-and up, so I just hope it continues in that vein,” said Mrs Radford.
“There had been a shift to local shops and I feel the lockdown has compounded that feeling of ‘if you don’t use it you’ll lose it’.”
Brentwood Borough Council chief executive Jonathan Stephenson said it had stepped in to help businesses by giving millions of pounds in emergency grants.
It has also implemented a range of measures including providing free parking for those working in essential shops, running retail recovery workshops and handing out 500 coronavirus information packs.
“We have distributed over £17m in Covid grants to 1,300 Brentwood businesses,” he said.
“The feedback from businesses has been highly complimentary for the range of support we have offered.”
As for Mr Burton, he’s hoping the dual power of social media and being located in a place well-known for its celebrity pulling power might also give his salon a further boost.
“I’ve just had a very famous singer book an appointment for her dog,” he said.
“She has 7.5m followers on social media and I’m hoping if I do a good job she might tag me!”
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