COLCHESTER retailers are prepared to overlook the “frustration” felt during the second national lockdown as they prepare to open their doors for a busy Christmas season.

But some in the town’s flagging hospitality sector feel pubs and restaurants have been “used as a scapegoat” throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Businesses in Colchester are preparing for the lift from lockdown measures to Tier 2 restrictions on Wednesday.

The whole of Essex, as well as Southend and Thurrock, has been placed into this tier, which will largely impact on the hospitality sector, with pubs and restaurants only able to open if they serve a “substantial meal” with alcohol.

For retailers, preparations are well underway in a bid to make the most out of the busy Christmas period.

Bill and Berts gift shop said it would reopen its doors with a day of late night shopping, from 8.30am until 8pm on Wednesday.

The shop will be offering free calenders to the first 50 paying customers on reopening day.

Bill Nettelfield, owner, said: “We are busy in the shop across today and tomorrow, restocking the shelves and making sure we are ready.

“We have been lucky that our lovely regular customers have supported us throughout lockdown.”

But Mr Nettelfield voiced his frustration over the way “non essential” shops had been categorised.

“It has been incredibly frustrating when you see other shops allowed to open, other shops which are selling the same or similar items we sell - for example some garden centres and places like Wilko.

“We have felt it has been a selective lockdown, with many independent businesses unfairly impacted.

“Many independent businesses and those in the hospitality sector have spent a lot of money fitting out their business to be Covid compliant.

“The most dangerous place to be is a supermarket, not a trader which has taken great care to create a safe space.”

Under the Tier 2 rules pubs and bars must close, unless operating as restaurants.

Hospitality venues can only serve alcohol with substantial meals.

They must provide table service only and close between 11pm and 5am.

But businesses and venues selling food and drink for consumption off the premises can continue to do so after 10pm if it is click and collect.

Piers Baker, owner of the Church Street Tavern, in Colchester, and the Sun Inn, in Dedham, said Colchester’s placement in Tier 2 did not reflect low infection rates.

Harwich and Manningtree Standard: Hospitality - Piers Baker, owner of the Church Street TavernHospitality - Piers Baker, owner of the Church Street Tavern

“We traded for two weeks in Tier 2 before lockdown and we were not profitable,” he said.

“We had been hoping to get into Tier 1, as it seemed infection rates in Essex were lower.

“Government is allowing retail to be fully open and for the meeting up of three households around Christmas.

“I would have thought in a completely controlled environment where cases of coronavirus are lower than elsewhere, the Government would have taken a different approach.

“Hospitality is clearly a scapegoat, and clearly a way for the Government to say ‘we’re retaining some control.’

“If they want to do that - absolutely fine - but they need to provide more financial support.”

He added: “In Tier 2 there is no financial support at all, we have got to go it alone and hope for the best.

“December is our best month of the year, generally we will make around 60 to 70 per cent of our annual profit.

“Bookings are okay for Friday nights and Saturday nights, and Sunday lunch, but with only three weeks before Christmas it’s not good enough.

“It is worse for wet-led hospitality businesses, especially night clubs, and I really feel for them.

“They have no back-up, and while a Government minister might ask why can’t they pivot and serve food, many of them won’t even have kitchens.”

Mr Baker said when Church Street Tavern, in Colchester, reopens, its downstairs bar area will remain closed.