Market Day at Waltham Cross
Waltham Cross has markets most Wednesdays and Fridays. It is my local market, just under a mile away from home. Three visits were made for this article – 15 April 2020, when the lockdown for the Covid-19 pandemic had been in force for 3 weeks; 3 June, when street markets could re-open; 17 June, when non-essential shops could also be open.
On the Way. April 15
Walking to Waltham Cross revealed the times were unusual and was a taste of what would be found at the Cross. Most shops were closed, the plumbers’ merchant and a few local grocery shops being the exceptions. The cafes were closed. The pubs were closed. Usually it would not be easy to cross Crossbrook Street because of the traffic. Today it would be no problem. There was but little traffic.
Buses came along from time to time but official advice was that they should be reserved for the use of key workers. Anyway, walking to the Cross would conform with daily exercise rules.
Just past Theobalds Grove station was a local Tesco’s Express store. Outside was a queue, with people standing apart from each other. Taped lines on the pavement denoted the distance to stay apart. A staff member on the door admitted customers. One out one in.
Crossing the roundabout just before the shopping area was unusually easy. Homebase is a large home and DIY store. The car park was empty, the store closed. Wickes over the road did have some customers. Like Tesco’s, customers were queueing, again admitted by a staff member.
The Shopping Area
On Wednesdays the main pedestrian area would have plenty of people and various stalls. Not one stall to be seen, and only a handful of people. Most shops were closed, just those selling essentials being open. And this was just before lunchtime.
Inside The Pavilions shopping centre the central cafe area was closed, any seating taped off. Smiths the newsagent also housed the post office at the rear of the store. Outside was a notice board indicating that the post office was only open till 3 o’clock (regardless of anyone waiting), there was only 1 staff member available, and some services were not available. The estimated waiting time was 10 minutes per customer. With at least two dozen people in the queue it doesn’t take much to work out how long the wait could be. There was another queue for Sainsbury’s, another for the Halifax bank, and yet another for Boots the chemist. Fortunately the Centre’s toilets were open (no queue here). For Smiths and Boots the main parts of the stores were closed.
Leaving The Pavilions at the Eleanor Cross end revealed yet another queue for Barclays bank.
Round the corner the few shops open had relatively short queues, with notices on the windows reminding shoppers to keep at least 2 metres apart or restricting patronage to 2 customers at a time.
A sandwich or a coffee would be nice by this stage. Just a couple of outlets where a takeaway could be bought, restricted to a couple of customers at a time. No places to sit and eat or drink in comfort.
However, all seemed calm. There were no obvious incidents of impatience or people trying to jump queues. People did not communicate with each other; they just waited.
On the way home I passed the mobile burger / drinks van in Wickes car park. Closed. Had to wait till I got home for a needed drink, after a visit to ‘the facilities’ and washing my hands.
All this revealed a few initial changes to shopping habits. Just going out for a couple of items was a waste of time, fewer trips for more items being a better idea. Because of the people waiting it would not be good manners to browse in the way we were accustomed. Before shopping use anti-bacterial wipes (supplied by the shop) to clean the trolley handles. Know what you want, get it and pay. Money is not wanted because of the risk of virus transmission; use a payment card, preferably contactless.
This may have been market day, one of the busiest in the week, but the atmosphere was more like a ghost town.
Lockdown Eases. June 3
June 1 was the day when street markets were able to re-open. At Waltham Cross there were but two stalls in the market area on the first Wednesday, June 3rd. However, the stall hidden by the tree was actually more like a pop-up stall in the doorway as it was still there on non-market days. It would probably be classed as selling essntial goods. Most of the shops were closed. Fishpools had a notice on the window to say they planned to open at the weekend.
Queues were still in evidence but seemed to be shorter, both in the outdoor market area and in The Pavilions. There were more people in the market area. The Homebase car park, empty at the April visit, had quite a few cars in it.
Cafes still had to remain closed except for takeaway orders. However, some had chairs outside where people could sit; there were no tables. The tables inside had chairs on them. More establishments were trading.
Essentially there was a little more activity but nowhere near the usual amount.
Back to Business – mostly. June 17
June 17th was the first day when many shops were open as well as the market. There were a fair number of people, still some queues, and rather more stalls than the previous visit. Some shops and the library were still closed. Public houses and cafes were required to stay closed except for takeaway orders, hence not very busy.
By now The Pavilions shopping area had set up a one way system, with entry at the Eleanor Cross end and exit into the centre of the market. This was strictly controlled by staff, one customer not being allowed to exit at the entrance end even though no-one was about to enter.
Hence some degree of normality had returned. But as a notice on one stall commented, ‘It’s not over yet, so please keep your distance’.