Boris Johnson’s ‘roadmap’ out of coronavirus restrictions reached a key landmark on Monday: the circle in the diary that promised a first professional haircut in four months and first sit-down meal cooked by someone other than family. By early morning, Hastings shoppers were queuing round the block at Primark and Debenhams.  There were also first re-openings for hairdressers, nail salons and a host of shops selling retail goods and services hitherto labelled as ‘non-essential’ under the regulations. 

Most of the shops in Priory Meadow were certainly doing good business on the first day back, with small queues also forming outside H & M, New Look and JD Sports. The only hostile variant was the spring weather, the morning beginning with snow flurries and a cold breeze before generous sunshine flooded in mid-afternoon.

PICTURE: Dave Young

By then the pier had opened – just a few minutes after 12 noon – to a patient gathering of families with bikes and pushchairs, fishermen with rods, drinkers waiting to down their first pint of the day, and general sensation-seekers. Last summer’s management team of James Tozer and Mustafa Albelhadi, returning as directors of a new operating company Hastings Pier Entertainment Limited, have turned the foreground decking into a brightly coloured fairground arena with a range of ride-ons and other amusements. Though the outdoor temperature on Monday wasn’t quite what the ice cream vendors might have had in mind, there was plenty of other food and drink on offer (turn to page 20 of this issue for a full review). Behind the central cabin area, the array of 100 six-seater wooden benches is now serviced by a new bar installed at the sea end. The fishermen quickly set up their tackle in the space beyond, as if they’d been there all winter.

Outdoors only

Elsewhere there’s some way to go, though, before the town can feel truly hospitable again. Meals and drinks may from now on be served to restaurant, pub and café customers with no petty arguments as to whether scotch eggs or pork scratchings qualify as ‘substantial meals’ permitted to be washed down with alcohol – but outdoors only. So trade was brisk at Goat Ledge on St Leonards seafront, the White Rock Hotel was serving lunches out on its veranda, and the Caffé Nero extending the reach of its coffee tables across the pavement towards Queens Road. But most small cafes in Hastings and St Leonards have little or no outside space to spread into, and must await the next ‘roadmap’ turn that’s not due until 17th May. 

In the meantime, many establishments, both in retail and in the hospitality sector, have either fallen off the map or seem destined to do so. Debenhams is the highest profile casualty in the town. Its reopening this week was marked with posters in the window announcing its “Final Closing Sale” with offers of up to 70% discounts from original prices of fashion and home products and 50% of beauty and fragrance lines. A company spokesperson has stated that the entire stock liquidation is intended to be completed by, at latest, 15th May, and the Hastings branch may close before that date.

PICTURE: Dave Young

Bookshop closes

A rather different shop that has closed irreplaceably is the Scarlet Pimpernel antiquarian bookshop in London Road, St Leonards. The long-time owner John Phillipps, well-known for his half-French ancestry and eccentric manners, died from a heart attack in January leaving his premises stuffed to overbrimming with rare and used books – in the region of 125,000 volumes, according to one estimation. National bookseller World of Books has moved in with a series of vans to remove them. 

Other establishments, such as the Sea Zone restaurant on the corner of Warrior Square, have gone during lockdown (in that case the premises are being taken over by Fortes Pizzeria next door). How many more? We’ll have to wait and see.

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