RETAILERS are opening their doors today for the first time in months with one wish - to be able to welcome back customers and protect jobs.

“This is the start to the end of the lockdown for the non-essential retail sector,” said Paul Thompson, managing director of Barnitts, which is among the shops reopening alongside Fenwicks, Brown’s and York Designer Outlet.

“It is not about making money. That’s gone for this year. It is about surviving; about bringing everyone back into the business if that’s possible; it’s about people’s livelihoods and jobs.

“I am glad to be back up and running.”

York Press:

Welcoming The Press’s new Love Local Business campaign, Paul said: “I am very pleased The Press is supporting the local community and has been throughout the crisis, as they always have done. It is important to us all in the city centre.”

He also added weight to Love Local’s calls for people to support York’s businesses.

“Online shopping has been much needed through this period but once you lose the local economy it is very hard to get it back. Once it has gone it might be gone forever.”

Without competition from the high street the cost of goods online would rise, he added. “If the city is going to survive we need people to support it and come in. We have lost more businesses. That’s not good for the city centre.”

City centre public toilets are also reopening today and safety measures have been put in place, such as signs and stickers on the ground to encourage social distancing. A number of streets have become one way, and more streets are being pedestrianised including Goodramgate, King’s Square, Church Street, Colliergate, Blake Street, St Helen’s Square and Lendal.

Paul said the council was "doing their best" to address concerns about toilets and looking at incentives with car parking.

He acknowledged it was about striking a balance between bringing in revenue and getting the city back up and running. “If it doesn’t, everyone loses, especially the council.”

Barnitts will have one entrance and two exits - through the lighting department and the cook shop - to keep people as distanced as possible and control the numbers of people in store.

Paul said it was impossible to predict what trade would be like initially but he anticipates that decorating, DIY and gardening will be among their popular items.

“We just hope people get more confident and it grows. Staff are ready to come back. We are starting with a much smaller team, then see how things progress and un-furlough staff as hopefully the confidence to come and shop picks up.

“We need to keep the cost low. We have to make £1,000 a day to break even.”

He said York had felt busier in the past week but was "nothing like it should be". “I think the opening of other stores offers appeal for people to come into the city centre.”

Barnitts will initially open from 9.30am to 4pm, Monday to Saturday, and regularly review its hours.