A garden centre boss is urging the industry to stick to the latest set of government guidelines and unless they are offering essential items, to close until retail restrictions are lifted.
Chris Bonnett who runs Bonnetts Garden Village in Brentwood has voluntarily taken the decision to shut his doors to keep staff and customers safe as the latest wave of COVID19 infections spread across the country.
He believes garden centres should only open if they’re selling essentials like pet food and fuel and if they’re not, they should shut.
He’s also concerned that lockdown fatigue will force shoppers to browse the aisles of any retailer allowed to remain open rather than stay at home and stay safe.
Chris says now is a good time for the industry to go into winter hibernation to be ready to fully reopen in the spring when warmer weather will drive customers outdoors into their gardens.
The gardening sector was hit hard last year when the first lockdown was announced with outlets being forced to shut their doors to the public.
During the November lockdown, garden centres were given essential status which has been retained this time round.
Chris, who also runs GardeningExpress.co.uk, said: “I took the decision to shut my garden centre when I saw local cases growing at an alarming rate. We will open when they’ve dropped enough for it to be safe.“For me this is about being a responsible retailer and employer. I do not want to put my staff or customers at risk and while infections remain at a high level, so the right to do is to remain closed.
“I have no issue with truly essential retail – in fact I applaud retailers who are supporting their local communities and getting food, fuel and other essentials they need to them.
“What does concern me is that as lockdown fatigue begins to set in again, people will head to garden centres just for something to do and to get out of the house. Not only does it put them and other customers at risk, but also staff who have worked tirelessly to serve the community safely.”
Bonnett continued: “What I’m calling for is a voluntary code of conduct for ‘essential retailers’ to help stamp out the spread of the virus. We should be increasing restrictions to keep people safe.
“Retailers need to self-police. If something isn’t essential, then don’t sell it. If garden centres don’t follow the rules, then my fear is that our essential retail status will be stripped away.
“Big high street retailers are already setting the tone by suspending click and collect and shutting down parts of their operations. We need to be doing the same on a voluntary basis.
“We saw in the first lockdown that the sector really suffered in a key selling period for us all and we don’t want that to happen again.
“Think about customers too. Mentally getting out in the garden as the weather warms up will give them a huge boost. Let’s make sure infections are down then so we’re able to fully open for them.
“Now more than ever, we should unite against this virus in the short-term, so we can all enjoy the garden and benefits it brings to people and their well-being over the long-term.”