Dingwall traders take tentative steps towards recovery after bruising coronavirus lockdown setback
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TRADERS in Ross-shire's county town are taking the first tentative steps on the road to recovery after being dealt a hammer blow by the four-month coronavirus crisis.
The return of the tourism trade marked another milestone as more shops, pubs and accommodation providers declared themselves open for business under unprecedented new circumstances.
Some in Dingwall offered a “better than expected” verdict on the all-important bottom line as High Street footfall began to increase.
David Duguid of Picaresque Books and Galerie Fantoosh said: “The street has been quieter than it normally would be but this week it has picked up a bit with a few more tourists about, which has made a little bit of a difference. We will have to wait and see."
He believes he is "probably down 30 per cent on last year so far". He said: “A lady and her daughter who were just in here said it was their first time out since the lockdown. They were down from Lochinver.”
Greg Cormack, who runs Cormacks and Crawfords with his wife Kit, said: “It is very much not as it was, what with the reduced hours, but definitely better than expected.I think a lot of people wanted to get back to a feeling of normal even though it isn’t going to be normal for quite some time.”
Mrs Cormack said: “It is difficult to know what to expect in these times, certainly the first week there was a lot of people. It seems folk have been eager to avoid the cities or public transport but we are holding our own with limited hours .We are not last year’s figures but it is not on balance not all that much down, that is very positive.”
Andrew and Debbie Downie from the Sports and Model shop have welcomed the return of the fishing season, which forms a significant part of their trade.Mrs Downie said reopening had been a relief : "It's just really good to see people and see the High Street up and running again.People are now going out and going fishing again, which is something where you can really easily physically distance.
“I think people have been desperate to get out after being cooped up for 10 weeks. It is mental for them as well, give them that freedom again.”
Hazel Gordon of The Alchemist gallery said: "There have been quite a few comments on ‘how nice it is to look at something that isn’t food’, ‘good to see the shops open again’, ‘great to see the place coming back to life’.
"Who comes in is by nature self-selecting; those that are happy to be out and about are, those that are more cautious, are taking their time. Some have said smaller towns and less busy shops are seen as a more attractive option if you have concerns, so that’s helpful for places like Dingwall, where the smaller shops and businesses tend to offer quite a personal level of service anyway.
"In general, along with other independent shops on the street that I have spoken to, the local support since re-opening has been encouraging, and people do appreciate what the town has to offer and how difficult being locked down must have been. Shops that have been here a lot longer than us say footfall is less than normal for this time of year, but sales have been ok. There is obviously an uncertainly for businesses about what the months ahead might hold, but that’s the same for everyone the world over right now.
"A noticeable increase in visitors since the travel and tourism restrictions lifted, including people coming to see family locally. Mainly Scottish to date, and not necessarily from that far away, just folk looking for change of scene. The caravan park seems quite busy now.
"From an Alchemist point of view, people still like seeing and making their own choices and have been in buying presents and cards.
"The re-starting of our exhibition events has been popular; it’s something pleasant for people to visit. Dingwall-born Moira MacBeath has done very well showing with us; since opening on June 29, half of the work in her Ink exhibition has sold, which we are both delighted about. Her local scenes have been popular with local buyers. On several occasions they’ve shared why these places have been special to them; frombeing ‘home’, to where they visit with family, to the location of a marriage proposal. It’s always lovely to hear these stories, as it brings the work alive in more ways.
"Jane Appelbee’s textile art exhibition North West by North is also running just now and appealing to those with an interest in that medium. All being well, we hope to be showing the work of another Dingwall artist later in the summer, when retired architect Sandy Gracie, will exhibit Coast/lines, along with some retrospective watercolour works by his late wife Marion, running August 20–September 22."