Businesses across the north-east have reported a swell of interest as they reopen their doors once again with lockdown restrictions easing.
After a year of near-constant lockdown, Aberdonians were unsurprisingly keen to get back to their pre-pandemic lives visiting hair salons, homeware stores and garden centres.
Other firms now allowed to open include car showrooms, electrical repair shops and baby equipment shops.
The reopening of these businesses is the first major step in Scotland’s route out of lockdown.
Other changes this week include the resumption of in-person teaching across colleges and universities and permission granted for 12-to-17 year olds to take part in outdoor sporting activities.
The snowy conditions may have put some people off venturing out, but plenty of others were not concerned about a bit of cold weather.
Ben Reid Garden Centre on Countesswells Road staff were busy as soon as the front doors opened at 10am. The business is run by brother and sister team Simon Fraser and Katie Lindsay, who were delighted at the response from customers.
“I reckon we had about 250 people through the doors by lunchtime,” said Katie.
“It’s just been lovely to have customers back in the centre. Lockdown has been hard and it’s so nice to get back to a little bit of normality.”
Her brother Simon agrees, and says that many of the customers have come to feel like old friends over the years.
“It’s lovely to have such loyal customers who have held off buying their stuff from supermarkets or DIY stores in favour of coming back to a real nursery. It’s fantastic,” he said.
With so much time spent at home during the last 12 months, it’s not surprising people are keen to splash out on improving their surroundings.
“It’s the start of the gardening season and there is a real appetite for people to invest in their outdoor spaces because they know they are going to be using them a lot this year,” said Simon.
“I think people are really valuing their outdoor space, and I think gardens also give them a whole lot of help with their overall wellbeing, both physically and mentally. We always say in this game ‘to plant the garden is to believe in tomorrow’. And I think a lot of people want to invest in that near future and put the effort in to get results.”
At Sovereign Grooming on Union Street, doors opened at 7am to give people their first haircut in months.
“There was almost a sense of euphoria when we unlocked the doors this morning,” said managing director Kyle Ross, “and it is great for the mental health of both our clients and staff to reclaim a little bit of normality.
“The customers I’ve spoken to are delighted to be back and I think they are enjoying the experience of having something different to do.
“The feedback we’ve been getting from people is that everyone is feeling very ready to get back to normal now.”
Though they are keen to give their clients a normal and enjoyable trip to the barbers, the salon has had to implement strict working practices which would be unheard of pre-coronavirus.
“As you would expect, we have a significant number of enhanced hygiene measures in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19,” said Ryan.
“We’ve even set up a digital waiting room where customers can check-in online and wait in their cars until we are ready to see them.”
Despite the precautionary measures in place, restrictions mean that barbers like Sovereign Grooming can’t yet offer all of their services, such as beard trims and close shaving, for the time being as these tasks require masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) to be removed.
But Kyle is cautiously optimistic that it won’t be too long before normal service can resume and the business can operate as normal.
“This coming in and out of lockdown thing has been really difficult,” he said. “You think the end is in sight and then it is taken away from you again. But we are quietly hopeful that this is it, and the end really is in sight now.”
Also hoping that restrictions will soon be a thing of the past is Steve Innes, the managing director of I&K Motors in Inverurie.
“We are very grateful to be opening up once again but still feel quite cautious about what the future holds,” he said.
“The weather hasn’t been very favourable to us so far but we’ve had a lot of inquires and appointments made for later in the week.”
Though the firm’s vehicle servicing department has been busy during lockdown, most of the sales team have been on furlough.
“We’ve been in the business for nearly 40 years and had to adapt a lot in that time,” Steve said.
“There seems to still be a lot of demand for a quality used car and during lockdown we’ve been doing Facetime and video calls with customers to show them around our vehicles.
“But I’m delighted to be open properly once again.”