AFTER a long and difficult three months many businesses in Helensburgh which were forced to close premises during the coronavirus lockdown are getting set to resume something resembling normal trading again.

Restrictions on non-essential shops will be eased further from next Monday, June 29 and the Advertiser is calling on its readers to support local and independent retailers and help our stores recover from the most turbulent trading period in generations.

In last week's Advertiser, Aileen Morton, leader of Argyll and Bute Council, urged residents to shop locally and support "both businesses that have been there for the community throughout this pandemic and those that have been forced to close for months".

She added: "We are lucky to have such a range of businesses in Helensburgh, including small, independent retailers – if we want them to survive then we need to shop with them."

Her views were echoed by fellow Argyll and Bute Councillor Julie McKenzie, who represents Oban North and Lorn.

She said: "Although usually our politics are poles apart, I really welcome the message from the Argyll and Bute Council leader.

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"Shopping local is exactly what will assist the restoration and sustainability of Argyll and Bute’s economy and we all have a responsibility and part to play in making this happen."

Although some outlets will have to wait a little longer, such as pubs, restaurants and hairdressers, many independent stores are finalising preparations for their grand re-opening, albeit in a much-changed shopping environment.

Helensburgh Flowers owner Denise Murphy, who has been a retailer in the town for more than 20 years, said taking time out of her West Princes Street shop during lockdown helped her re-evaluate the business, and she has "fallen in love with floristry all over again".

"When lockdown first started I honestly did not know how I felt," she said. "I was anxious and also very sad as a small independent business owner having to close my little shop.

"I have a very strong business relationship with Jim Auld, our independent funeral director, and he was my priority.

"Government restrictions on funerals meant that you could only have eight people per funeral and we both felt it was so important to still be able to supply flowers for families.

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"I had to make sure the supply chain of flowers stayed open which was very challenging but I did it.

"I feel the comfort my flowers have given families over this awful time got me through some very dark moments in my business.

"I have been working alone from my unit since lockdown and it can be very isolating.

"However, as the weeks went by the support from the local community has been overwhelming. I have fantastic clients who have made sure I am kept very busy."

Denise believes having a strong online presence has helped no end while the shop's doors remained closed and she has plans to expand the digital side of the business.

She added: "We have a great website and this has shown me this will be the new way of buying moving forward.

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"We are developing an app for our business which will see our clients being able to order, click and collect at a time that is convenient to them in our newly refurbished shop.

"Our shop is getting a massive makeover in preparation for next week and I am very excited about our new look. We will be able to social distance with the new layout and we have also launched a new flower collection inspired during lockdown.

"I have always been a huge advocate for shopping local and supporting your local independent shop.

"I feel there has been a huge turnaround in local people's perception of how much our businesses mean to us and how important we are to the high street. A lot of my independent shop owner pals have gone above and beyond servicing the local community.

"We all have to embrace change, and the strong will survive."

Home decor store MYO Home in West Clyde Street will be re-opening on Wednesday, July 1 and manager Kate Young is hoping people rediscover the joys of shopping at local, independent outlets.

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She said: "We are delighted to be re-opening, albeit with new restrictions to keep everyone safe.

"It will be great to welcome our regular customers and hopefully some new customers who want to keep independent business alive in our community.

"While many will have turned to the internet I believe there is still a place for the local high street. Your local retailer really works to ensure they bring you individual and tailored services.

"I've been amazed by the ingenuity of many over the last few months and I hope we can continue to count on the community to support us and keep such a varied selection."

Vivien Dance, chair of the Helensburgh and Lomond Chamber of Commerce, said it is now time for shoppers to repay local businesses and avoid a return to the 'ghost town' high streets during lockdown.

Mrs Dance told the Advertiser: "We hope the good people of Helensburgh will recognise that over the past three months many of the town’s businesses, particularly small independent enterprises, have really answered the call and showed meaning to the expression of going that extra mile.

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"We have been kept fed and watered, our supplies of the majority of our needs have been met, and quite a lot of this has been because of the sterling work done by our local traders who have taken huge risks to maintain supplies.

"Thank you to all owners and staff for this, it is very humbling to think of what you have done over the longest three months in trading history.

"Time now for all shoppers to pay back for the sacrifices and give them, and all other re-opening businesses, as much revenue as possible over the next stage of beating this virus.

"All of us will be pleased to see a bit more vibrancy return to the town and look forward to seeing many of our businesses and their friendly staff back on our high street.

"We urge everyone to give them support in real terms of money in the till.

"We never want to return to the most depressing time of walking our streets and seeing the majority of shops shut although on a short-term basis, if we do not give them revenue, many of them will close for good.

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"Our actions over the next few weeks can help to avoid the return to the ghost town we saw in April and May, so it's time for the customers to step up to the mark."

Helensburgh Central councillor Lorna Douglas added: "The local businesses in the area, particularly the independent businesses that have managed to trade in some shape or form during lockdown, have shown great creativity and flexibility and deserve the continued support of our local community.

"I know many locals have supported small businesses over this difficult time and I really hope that the local support continues and grows.

"I am well aware that some local businesses have been unable to open due to lockdown measures, and for them this will have been a very difficult and challenging time.

"But I’m sure they will have the support of the local community as they open up again."

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