Anger and confusion has arisen today over new lockdown restrictions which mean garden centres and pet stores can stay open while other retail stores are being forced to close.
Thousands of chain and independent retailers have for a third time been ordered to shut their stores across England.
The new lockdown order, which follows on from national shutdowns in March and November, comes amid rising Covid infection and death figures across the country.
But some shop owners have bemoaned the harsh new restrictions, which will see all non-essential shops shut until at least mid-February.
While florists, clothes stores and book shops have all been deemed non-essential and now will be forced to close, those deemed essential, such as garden centres and pet stores, will be allowed to stay open.
It means in some High Streets, such as Haslemere, Surrey, shoppers can buy toys for their dogs and cats, but not for their young children.
High Street shoppers can also take their dog to a groomer – for urgent welfare needs – but can’t get a hair cut or enjoy grooming services for themselves.
It has sparked some shopkeepers to hit out at the ‘inconsistency’ of the rules, while others have dubbed them ‘frustrating’.
‘Animals have to be fed but they can also get their food and toys in the supermarkets, it is bizarre.
‘In fact, in a smaller business you can be more careful with covid and it does annoy me.
‘We only brought the business in July 2019 and it’s been a slippery slope ever since, we are expected to reopen if I can hang on by my fingernails.
‘I was planning on having a massive sale at the end of January but it won’t happen now because we are locked down again.’
However, one pet shop owner, said keeping his store open in lockdown has saved tax-payers money.
Owner of the Haslemere Pet Shop for 15 years, Ray Murphy, 50, said: ‘We’ve been open throughout as an essential which keeps me occupied, saves the tax payer money and provides an essential service for those with pets and livestock who need to be fed.
‘The difficulty is mostly when people come in with kids as they have to stay together to count as one but you have kids going around touching things, that’s how the virus spreads.’
Meanwhile, Ian Rowley has been forced to adapt to a click and collect service at The Haslemere Bookshop, seven years after he took over, despite the fact that WHSmith were allowed to remain open just a few doors down.
He said: ‘We have had to adapt dramatically since covid-19, we have had to become a virtual bookshop, offering a click and collect service. It has had a profound impact on the way we operate and how we work.
‘This lockdown is just Groundhog Day, it’s not really any different to other lockdowns.
‘It’s a bit odd that WHSmiths – who sell books – can stay open, but we cannot. We don’t compete with online services like Amazon on price but on service and recommendations.
‘On a positive note, for independents it has been much easier to adapt than chains because we can tell about something in the morning and then do it. Whereas, chain businesses along this high street can’t make those decisions, it has to go through headquarters.’
Away from Haslemere, other shop owners have also raised concerns.
One barber shop chain owner, who runs sites in Hampshire, Dorset and Wiltshire, said the rules were ‘frustrating’.
Dan Champion, who runs Champion Barbers, told MailOnline: ‘You get things like pet shops and estate agents can stay open – and they can’t even show people around, it’s a bit weird.
‘I also tried to buy a card the other day and I went to the independent card shop but it was closed, so I had to go to a supermarket.
‘It was much busier than the card shop would have been
‘And one of my staff members told me the other day that they went shopping and saw lots of older people at an open air market, surely that’s got to be a risk?’
The 45-year-old father-of-two, who has run his business for the last eight years, said the third lockdown was ‘difficult’ for him and his staff, many of whom are self-employed.
He said: ‘In some ways it is good because where we had different shops in different counties we had different rules, but it’s hard for our staff.
‘I had to let a few go earlier this year because of social distancing. I had seven at one of my shops but I had to cut that back to three to allow social distancing between the chairs.
‘My biggest worry is at the end of all of this. I’ve taken some of the Bounce Back loans but when I have to pay them back I’m going to have debts, no savings and possibly higher taxes.’
Faye Louise, who runs the Forest Pet Supplies store in Ringwood, says she feels lucky to be able to remain open, and doesn’t agree with the division of essential and non-essential shops
The mother-of-one told MailOnline: ‘The rules are just so complicated.
‘It’s so wrong that you can buy a coat for your dog but not for your child.Obviously you can still buy online, but it’s still wrong. They don’t think about children’s special needs.
‘I think it’s unfair that some places should be allowed to stay open when others can’t. If pet stores are essential, why not kids’ clothing shops?’
However the 27-year-old, from Ringwood, said she believed the lockdown was ‘definitely needed’.
She added: ‘We are very lucky that we’ve been able to stay open and are deemed essential, as others aren’t so lucky.’
Wendy Lowen, who visited the store to buy food for her Jack Russell, agreed that what is deemed essential varies from person to person.
Across the road from Forest Pet Supplies is Patricia’s Florist, which has had to adapt its business model to only accept orders by phone and click & collect despite garden centres being able to remain open.
Owner Patricia Taylor said: ‘We have been mainly operating by click and collect since the first lockdown, but it’s confusing as people are told they can come to collect flowers but are also told to stay at home.
‘I don’t think it’s fair that garden centres can stay open.
‘My customers still want to visit the shop, and I’ve had to furlough some staff members because we can’t stay open.
‘Even before the lockdown was announced last night our doors were shut, and all throughout Christmas the doors were shut.
‘It’s difficult because we’re deemed non-essential but the wine shop next door is still allowed to open for collection and delivery.
‘Does that mean wine is deemed essential? The rules are all very odd.’
It comes as hundreds of thousands of non-essential retailers were told they will have to keep their doors closed under England’s third nation-wide lockdown.
The government’s decision to let garden centres remain open while other retailers close has angered some bosses and shop workers.
Hotels must also close during this lockdown and guests must leave unless they are permanently resident at the premises or are unable to return home.
Boris Johnson last night told Britons that they would only be allowed to leave the house for permitted reasons – including ‘to shop for essentials’.
And the government last night released guidance explaining which businesses are ‘essential’ after many stores controversially remained open during the November Tier 3 lockdown.
Essential retail includes food shops, supermarkets, pharmacies, garden centres, building merchants and suppliers of building products and off-licences, the Government’s official website states.
The less-obvious retailers allowed to trade in person include dry cleaners, outdoor botanical gardens and cattle or farm equipment auctions – while every other kind of auction must shut.
Those caught breaking the rules – including gyms who refuse to shut – can be slapped with a £200 fine. This figure can double up to £6,400 for repeat offenders.
The new rules are slightly different to Tier 4 as archery and shooting ranges and outdoor riding centres were able to open under the highest tier – but must close under the new national lockdown.
All non-essential shops were able to open under Tier 3.
Other businesses allowed to remain open in the new lockdown include those providing repair services, petrol stations, automatic (but not manual) car washes, banks, post offices, short-term loan providers and funeral directors.
Vets will stay open, as will animal rescue centres, animal groomers – for welfare and not aesthetic purposes – and boarding facilities.
Car parks, public toilets and motorway service areas are all open as well.
Heritage sites that are outside will also remain open to the public – but only if they are used for ‘exercise’.
Britons took to Twitter to share their confusion at why shops such as garden centres were considered essential.
Carole Bookless asked: ‘Can you explain why a garden centre is classed as essential during this lockdown.
‘No ones life depends on a garden centre being open.’
Emma Powell issued a stark warning to parents writing: ‘My 14-year-old step daughter now goes to the garden centre because it’s the new place to hang. Not satire.’
Mel added: ‘You can even pop off to the garden centre. Because that is definitely essential shopping in the dead of winter.
Another furious Twitter user wrote: ‘So Covid loves a crowd? If that’s true then why for instance are garden centres still open?
‘How are they essential retail? The garden centre demographic is Covid’s favourite type of host. The mind boggles.