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Nearly 100 days after they were locked down, many shop signs across Oban were finally flipped to open again today.
Lights were back on, staff back behind the counters and customers welcomed at the door, as coronavirus restrictions which have shut a range of independents and high street brands were lifted after 14 long weeks.
Despite weeks of good weather, drizzle and wind marked the Monday morning reopening.
Businesses noted a ‘steady’ return of shoppers and traffic was noticeably on the move throughout Oban town centre this morning.
Customers were met by standard safety measures – from staff in protective masks and shields, to hand sanitisers and wipes at entrances.
Restrictions on numbers, new signage and new cleaning regimes were all in evidence.
At department store The Original Factory shop on Combie Street, a steady stream of customers were back in for a look around the rails.
Chris Taylor, manager to nine staff, said: ‘We have been really busy and it feels good to reopen and get back to some sort of normality.
‘We’re keeping the restrictions in place with social distancing and only letting so many people in the shop at any given time and are monitoring people coming in and out.’
At independent outdoor specialists, Outside Edge, owners Dave and June Bleazard, who have been in business 30 years, were also back behind the counter.
Mr Bleazard, a keen outdoors man, quipped that it was strange waking up to an alarm clock today but they were ‘desperate’ to see customers again and have Oban return to some form of normality.
Customers at the doors were encouraged to cleanse their hands as they entered, hard surfaces are scrubbed cleaned, and BID4Oban had been ‘great’ at providing social distancing signs, added Mr Bleazard.
This weekend is likely to see the return of more visitors to Oban with the travel restriction of five miles due to be lifted, he said.
At M&Co which sells women’s, men’s and children’s clothing, Allison MacLean said despite the weather, custom had been ‘steady’ and it was good to put the lights on and start work again.
Changing rooms remain closed but people could still purchase products and return them, she said.
The product is then ‘quarantined’ for 72 hours and then steam-cleaned before going back out on the rails.
Long-standing Argyll-based quality clothing retailer, MacIntyres, opened on George Street in 2019 and had a ‘fantastic’ first year.
Manager Nicole Sweeney said: ‘We are really glad to see the town reopened and hopefully there’s still enough time for a good summer season for everybody.’
Cosmetic store The Highland Soap Company also had its doors open again.
Manager Sarah Eggett and Katie Sims are back behind the counter for the first time since March 22 with colleague Claire Bruce due back too.
‘We have already had regulars in and they are enjoying a bit of normality coming back to the town,’ they said.
Sweet shop Mitchells, a wonderland for every kind of goodie – from Oban rock to Highland fudge – also switched on the neon ‘ices’ sign today.
Albert Mitchell, husband to shop owner Violet, was at the helm in a face shield – a new-look for a shop which has been a fixture of the high street for 38 years.
Today’s wet and windy weather had not brought out a flood, but the shop relied on both locals and visitors, he said.
Jean and Arthur Gillies have run Oban Music Shop for 11 years and it has been in existence for more than 25 years.
Specialising in traditional musical instruments, alongside CDs, gifts and musical accessories, it also has a website www.musicscotland.com.
Jean said: ‘It has been difficult being closed, as with most businesses, you have to be open to greet your customers, but it feels good to get to this point and get reopened again. It definitely feels like a step in the right direction.’
Andy Spence, chief executive of BID4Oban, said he was ‘really pleased’ to see so many business reopening and some normality returning to the town.
‘I think it will be a gradual start and it’s good to see the instances of coronavirus coming down,’ he said.