When can non-essential shops open and which shops will open first?

Woman selling flowers as date is announced for when shops can reopen in England

Now that plans to lift England's lockdown have now been announced, non-essential shops have been given a date for when they can reopen.

It's been a long time coming for the high street, which had to close up when the third lockdown was announced in January. Every shop that wasn't considered 'essential' under the government guidelines, such as clothes shops, furniture shops and electrical stores, all had to close just like they did in the first and second lockdowns last year.

Under the government's roadmap out of lockdown, which has been described as "cautious but irreversible" by the prime minister, these shops will now be able to reopen in the next couple of months - providing everything goes well.

When can non-essential shops open?

Non-essential shops will be able to reopen to customers no earlier than April 12, under the government's latest plan.

In a speech to the House of Commons on February 22, Boris Johnson said, "In step two non-essential retail will reopen, as will personal care including hairdressers I’m glad to say, and nail salons."

He added that all non-essential businesses, including gyms and leisure centres, outdoor centres such as zoos, libraries, theme parks and outdoor spaces in pubs, restaurants and cafes would also be able to reopen at the same time.

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This depends on the continued success of the vaccination rollout plan, the vaccines continuing to be effective at limiting hospitalisations and deaths, an ever-lowing infection rate around the country and no new Covid-19 variants to disrupt progress.

According to the guidance, while the shops will be open for business again, they "should only be visited alone or with household groups" as their reopening comes before people from different households can mix indoors. This will be allowed anytime from May 17, so after this date people will be able to visit shops with those who are not in their household or support bubble.

The announcement gives shops a countdown, with non-essential businesses allowed to reopen under two months after kids are allowed to go back to school after lockdown begins to lift.

Which shops will open first?

All non-essential shops will be allowed to open in one go from April 12. This includes all department stores, clothes shops, book shops, electrical and technology stores, and all the high-street stores that were forced to close in January when the lockdown was announced.

There will not be a phased approach to reopening businesses and shops this time around, unlike when shops reopened in June last year. Car showrooms and outdoor markets were some of the first to be able to reopen, while stores that operated exclusively indoors had to open at a later date.

Some things will be different this time around though, as social distancing could be no-more by the time the summer rolls around. This massively depends on whether the data shows that the reductions in Covid-19 cases are significant enough and other measures, such as wearing masks in stores, will likely be in force.

Woman shopping after shops reopen

Credit: Getty

What is a non-essential shop?

On January 6, the prime minister announced that all "non-essential shops" must close. It included the following types of store:

  • Clothing and fashion stores and tailors
  • Retail travel agents
  • Homeware stores
  • Carpet stores
  • Kitchen, bathroom, tile, and glazing showrooms
  • Tobacco and vape shops
  • Electronic goods and mobile phone shops
  • Charity shops
  • Photography studios
  • Antique stores
  • Homeopathic and naturopathic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine stores
  • Markets (except livestock markets or stalls which fall under the list of essential businesses above, for example those selling food)
  • Car and other vehicle showrooms and other premises, including outdoor areas, used for the sale or hire of caravans, boats or any vehicle which can be propelled by mechanical means.
  • Car washes (except for automatic car washes)
  • Auction houses (except for auctions of livestock or agricultural equipment)
  • Betting shops

Taxi and vehicle hire businesses have been allowed to continue throughout lockdown, where they were forced to temporarily close last time. Garden centres and estate agents were also allowed to continue trading through the third lockdown so they will stay open.

What are the guidelines for shops to reopen?

Some things will be different this time around though, as social distancing could be no-more by the time the summer rolls around. This massively depends on whether the data shows that the reductions in Covid-19 cases are significant enough and other measures, such as wearing masks in stores, will likely be in force.

Woman chooses clothes as the date for when shops can reopen is announced

Credit: Getty

June 21 has been marked as the final step out of any lockdown restrictions and the earliest date that the country could return to 'normal' living once again, for the first time since March last year.

“Social distancing is difficult and damaging for businesses and, as a result, it is important to return to as near to normal as quickly as possible." The document outlining the government's roadmap says, “Ahead of Step Four, as more is understood about the impact of vaccines on transmission and a far greater proportion of the population has been vaccinated, the Government will complete a review of social distancing measures and other long-term measures that have been put in place to limit transmission.”

When will charity shops reopen?

Charity shops are set to reopen anytime from April 12, along with all other non-essential businesses.

They joined the list of non-essential businesses back in January and this is the earliest date they'll be able to reopen, as the shops trade inside so there's limited social distancing.

Luckily though, there's due to be a boom in business when charity shops do reopen. Robin Osterley from the Charity Retail Association (CRA) told the Observer, “We’re anticipating very strong trading when we open up,” due to the surge in donations as people will be off-loading unwanted gifts from the year, and the impact of falling incomes as households will be forced to cut their spending. "Unfortunately this group is likely to increase," he added.

It comes after a troubling year for retail, where charity shops would normally bring a £330 million profit home to their charities. Robin said, “It’s the quickest way of injecting cash into a charity, and a vital source of ‘unrestricted income’, which means it can be spent on anything,”

“We’ve lost a huge chunk of that over the past 10 months. Every month that shops have been closed, UK charities have lost £28m.”

Grace Walsh
Features Writer

Grace Walsh is a health and wellbeing writer, working across the subjects of family, relationships, and LGBT topics, as well as sleep and mental health. A digital journalist with over six years  experience as a writer and editor for UK publications, Grace is currently Health Editor for womanandhome.com and has also worked with Cosmopolitan, Red, The i Paper, GoodtoKnow, and more. After graduating from the University of Warwick, she started her career writing about the complexities of sex and relationships, before combining personal hobbies with professional and writing about fitness.