‘It’s wrong I can’t buy a birthday card for someone I am not allowed to meet up with’ was one of the many thousands of Tweets, comments from those living in Wales in response to the 17 day ‘firebreak’ lockdown that came into effect last Friday evening (27 October) in the country.
Thankfully, a u-turn from the Welsh government has seen greeting cards and stationery elevated to ‘essential items’ status and as such are able to be sold by supermarkets and other ‘essential’ retailers in Wales during the country’s current ‘firebreak’ lockdown that runs until November 7.
In an effort to stem the spread of the pandemic, Wales’ first minister Mark Drakeford initially announced the closure of not only ‘non-essential’ shops (such as card and gift stores), but also saw supermarkets having to remove or put barriers across their greeting card displays ordering them to only sell ‘essential’ items, most notably foodstuffs.
The first minister stated that the initial decision to only allow supermarkets to sell ‘essential’ items was taken to create a ‘level playing field’ for those traders (including card and gift retailers) who have been forced to close under the new Covid-19 firebreak regulations. However, the decision resulted in widespread outrage. As a follow on from the Welsh government’s back down a few days ago which granted supermarkets and other ‘essential retailers in the country ‘discretion’ in selling non-essential items during this period, last night it issued a list of products that are categorically allowed to be sold – and greeting cards feature highly on this, along with cleaning products, pharmaceuticals, stationery, toiletries, sanitary items, baby products, newspapers and magazines.
PG Buzz caught the mood from a couple of leading greeting card retailers for their views on the current situation…
Still on a high from having won a Greats gift retailing award recently (organised by Progressive Gifts and Home, allied to PG Buzz) Rachel Bates, owner of The Celtic Company in Welshpool said: “We were having such a fantastic build up to Christmas that it really is a shame to have to close our doors once again but hopefully this circuit breaker will protect our trade moving from November onwards which is obviously crucial to us! We are still trading in some respects, we have put together cards packs of four or five cards from our most popular ranges which are available to buy online and these have proved really popular.”
While Rachel on the one hand understood that supermarkets were precluded from selling cards “to minimise the temptation to stay and shop for longer than necessary” she also felt it was wrong. “The moment a card through the post wherever that comes from means more than ever, keeping connected and together even when we are apart is in my opinion essential! I am happy with the u-turn.”
Meanwhile, in Treorchy owner of the Wonder Stuff card and gift shop, Alison Chapman, was equally disappointed when she heard there was to be lockdown in Wales affecting indies such as her, but is relieved that some sense has prevailed regarding the supply of greeting cards via supermarkets. “I was disappointed about the lockdown from a personal perspective because we have been so busy the last few weeks with customers buying early for Christmas. While I feel that the lockdown is necessary for the greater good and everyone’s health and safety I can’t help but also be concerned about the impact it will have on independent businesses in Wales from no income to having to pay suppliers and bills.”
However taking a holistic view she added that “As a retailer I think it is so important to offer convenience to every customer and from a customer’s point of view the u-turn on allowing cards to be stocked in supermarkets is great news. It seems that the supermarket restrictions escapade was totally unnecessary. I always try and look at things from a positive point of view and shops should now start to look to the end of the Welsh lockdown and get their shops ready to open again…I just hope we can stay open this time!!!
She feels assured that despite the fact that there may be a shift to supermarkets and online in the interim for their greeting card purchases she feels assure the consumer will be keen to return to supporting their local independent retailers.
“I think customers would have been frustrated if they couldn’t buy cards in supermarkets because it is convenient to pick up one up while they are under one roof. Some of course may turn to Amazon throughout this lockdown but hopefully they will return to their local card and gift shops once we are able to open again. I think customers are much more aware how important it is to support their local highstreets at the moment and they will return.”
Top: First minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford announcing the firebreak lockdown.