French shops reopen ahead of Christmas sales period

By Marta Garde

Paris, Nov 28 (efe-epa).- Small French businesses on Saturday breathed a tentative sigh of relief as they were permitted to reopen ahead of the Christmas period as part of the government’s gradual easing of a nationwide shutdown that was enforced to curb spiraling Covid-19 numbers.

Non-essential businesses, which include bookshops, clothes shops and hairdressers, are opening their doors to clientele a month after they were ordered to lock up as part of the government’s coronavirus strategy.

During that time, large firms like Carrefour and Monoprix were allowed to stock clothing and books, which is normally not allowed in a bid to stave off unfair competition.

“Today we’re all excited,” a clerk at Marionnaud perfume store in Paris tells one of the first customers to come through the door.

This excitement is justified. This particular sector makes between 30-40% of its sales during the Christmas period. It was also hit last year with social unrest in France, ranging from the weeks of so-called yellow vest protests to strikes against pension reform.

The pandemic has hit businesses large and small. The Galeries Lafayette, an up-heeled department store, is set to lose almost half its normal sales this year, according to newspaper Le Figaro.

Others like fashion outlet Bon Marché predict a 25-35% drop in sales compared to last year.

The decision to let commercial businesses open again was announced by President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday. Additional health and safety protocol inside stores remain in place.

It offers France’s shop-owners a bit of relief ahead of a traditionally busy period.

“It’s important to be able to sell our products for Christmas and to bring the usual service back to our customers,” Sophie Gamby, a store manager for the luggage and travel equipment company Rayon d’Or, tells Efe.

The company has 46 employees in eight outlets in Paris but, during the lockdown, only those working in online sales kept up their tasks.

“With online shopping, you can touch the products and you get less advice. With suitcases, it’s better to buy in person to get a good idea of its size,” Gamby says, although she acknowledges that the drop in flight travel has also taken a bite out of sales.

As with other businesses in France, the first task for the employees this morning was to prepare the store area to be in line with Covid-19 protocol, including the use of arrows on the floor to direct customers in a way that maintains social distancing.

French prime minister Jean Castex and the economy minister Bruno Le Maire used the occasion to visit shops in the city of Reims, northern France, as a show of support.

“The characteristics of the virus means we cannot see what’s on the horizon,” Castex told the press. “We are fine-tuning our rules in cooperation with professionals. We will adapt according to the results.”

The number of daily Covid-19 deaths in France has averaged at around 400, and the government has yet to slate a date for the reopening of restaurants and bars.

“We’re going to have to be patient, as we have been since the beginning,” says Quentin Gallic, manager of Les Parigots restaurant in Paris. “I don’t mind waiting so long as the reopening is definitive and not under the threat of a third lockdown.”

Gallic has tried to make up for the lack of normal service by focusing on takeaway pizzas and rotisserie chicken but has logged between just 5 and 10% of normal intake.

“We can’t survive with just this,” he says.

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