Borders off-licences putting safety first after getting go-ahead to reopen

Retailers running off-licences in the Borders have reacted with caution and surprise after the UK Government designated their outlets as essential businesses, allowing them to reopen after last week’s lockdown.

Wednesday, 1st April 2020, 8:43 pm
Alister Rae and Kenneth Vannan at Villeneuve Wines in Peebles.

Off-licences have been added to the list of UK retailers allowed to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead of jumping at the chance to reopen, traders here are exercising caution and putting public health ahead of potential profit.

Abbey Fine Wines in Melrose’s Market Square has reopened, but that decision is being reviewed on a daily basis, with very few customers coming through its doors.

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Abbey Fine Wines in Melrose.

Malcolm Smith, son-in-law of owner Ian Gribbin, said: “We closed a week ago on Tuesday and have been trying to do deliveries, which has been challenging.

“Now we have reopened for four hours, not the full day, from 11am to 3pm. We reduced the hours to try and reduce the amount of time I am here.

“We closed half of our shop off because we are a wine shop and a coffee shop, so the whole coffee shop side is closed down. We’re not even doing takeaways to keep the staff away and keep them safe.

“With regard to the wine shop, there can be three people working here and now there is just myself, and I am encouraging people to do deliveries just to keep them away from the shop, and I’m just dropping off on doorsteps with delivery notes and taking payments over the phone to eliminate contact with each other.

“It’s a difficult one. It all depends what funding materialises from the government.

“Because the coffee shop is closed, we have had to let staff go.

“Safety is the key before anything. The government has put out an order to say we are an essential business, but it’s a balance between keeping the business going – it’s been going for 37 years – and closing the doors and potentially not being able to open again.

“We are not getting people coming in at all, but we have been getting people phoning in, which is helping.

“Licensing laws are such that you are not supposed to say that alcohol is a way of coping, a way of getting you through this. We’ve had people on our Facebook page saying they are glad we are open, that they regard us as an essential service but are we essential? It’s a difficult one.”

Villeneuve Wines at Eastgate in Peebles, launched in 1981 by co-directors Alister Rae and Kenneth Vannan, hasn’t reopened but is doing deliveries.

Alister said: “With the greatest will in the world, there is absolutely no way that we can maintain a two-metre distance between two people, so I’m afraid that much as the businessman inside of me thinks ‘well great, we can open up the shop’, realistically most of the good people who shop with us don’t want to take the risk of going to an environment where they could be spreading coronavirus.

“What we have decided to do since the shutdown is to use our web business, and customers are placing orders via our website by email or telephone, and we are offering them a free delivery service in the immediate area of both our Peebles and Edinburgh shops.

“The shops are staying shut because we can’t take the risk of putting staff in a situation where they might actually get it. I could never live with myself if I did that.

“I don’t understand the government’s view. If they are deeming us essential, it points to pressure being put on and maybe they feel that people in the UK need to have drink to keep themselves calm under the current circumstances, but I can’t see how it’s responsible.”