“READING remains in a state of shock — but we don’t envisage people staying away”.
That’s the message from the leader of Reading Borough Council as the town comes to terms with Saturday’s horrific terror attack.
The effects of last week’s incident may, understandably, be felt by many for months to come as locals try to understand what happened.
Whether this means locals stay away from Reading is yet to be seen, but if they do, this could mean the town is affected financially as well as emotionally.
Traders will be hoping this is not the case after many months of uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Non-essential stores and services in Reading and across the UK re-opened on Monday, June 15 as the Reading Chronicle urged readers to back business in the town.
One store directly affected by the terror attack on Saturday was Sweatshop on Friar Street, which was forced to shut down on Sunday as the road was closed off as part of the police’s investigation, but has re-opened now.
Meringa Gedvilaite, manager of the fitness clothing store, told the Chronicle she felt her shop was more “vulnerable” than others in the town.
“I think sport has definitely been one of the highlights of the lockdown for people able to go outside instead of going to the gym”, she said.
“So everyone had been really excited [for the re-opening] and we had a really good week last week.
“It’s been good but unfortunately because of what happened on Saturday, on Sunday, we had to shut as the whole of Friar Street was closed.
“The attacks can happen anywhere, anytime, and because we’re quite small I think we’re more vulnerable than the bigger stores.
“I think people are going to be scared more in the evenings rather than in the daytime.”
Following the attack, chiefs at Reading UK, a community interest company which promotes business, were in touch with store owners affected by the road closures across town.
A spokesperson from the organisation told the Chronicle around 90 per cent of the town centre’s shops re-opened quickly after lockdown and the town was already seeing “positive signs” of customers returning last week.
They praised Reading’s economy and its people for their ‘resilience’, adding: “They have seen off global economic downturns and a pandemic and while we were all shocked by the events of Saturday, by Monday lunchtime (22nd), the town centre was busy again with shoppers determined that life must go on.”
Reading UK will be working closely with the council over the coming weeks to “promote Reading as a great place to do business.”
Leader of Reading Borough Council, Jason Brock, told the Chronicle the council worked “tirelessly” during the pandemic to hand out government cash grants to businesses in the town.
Determined not to let this support slip, Cllr Brock added: “All of Reading remains in shock following Saturday’s horrific events and our thoughts remain firmly with everyone affected, but we do not envisage people staying away as a result.
“In no way do I underestimate the lasting impact of this on the town, but neither should anyone forget the resilience of residents and businesses in Reading. Police have clearly stated that they do not believe there is a wider threat.”
But bosses at Blue Collar Food, the company which manages several food stalls at Market Place every Wednesday lunchtime, including yesterday, are not quite as optimistic about footfall around the town.
Glen Dinning, owner of Blue Collar, urged residents to come out and support traders who have been hit hard by the pandemic.
He said: “Coupled with people potentially being nervous about a second wave of the virus, it’s likely footfall is going to remain low over the next couple of months.
“Our model is based all-around high footfall – it’s what enables street food stalls to use really good ingredients but keep the cost down for customers.
“It’s been a difficult time for everyone, and I completely understand why some people may be apprehensive about returning to town, but the last few months have pushed our food traders to the limit and, now more than ever, we need people to keep on coming out and lunching with us in Market Place every Wednesday if they’re able to.
“The outpouring of emotion after Saturday’s attack shows how strong our community spirit in the town is, and I think collectively we can make sure the three people that passed away are paid tribute to, and that our town centre is remembered as a happy place again.”