Traders rushed to sign up for the three-day Petersfield Antiques Fair when organiser Caroline Penman sent out proposals last week. Half of the 26 available stands were snapped up the same day.
“There is clearly an appetite to get back to fairs,” says Penman (see Letters), “but the cost for dealers has to be kept to the barest minimum – it is a gamble.”
She has prepared an extensive system for visitor safety during the three-day indoor event scheduled for September 4-6 including one-way paths, receiving visitors by invitation only and having earl ier ar rival s book appointments. Visitors will be able to handle items only after sanitising their hands and jewellery will be cleaned after being tried on.
B2B Events has similarly been working towards complying with new regulations in the hope that its indoor and outdoor Detling Antiques, Vintage & Collectors Fair will next run on July 18-19.
Organiser Helen Yourston said: “Our preparations include risk assessment and a new indoor floorplan. For dealers we’ll have social distancing between each stand and there will be a comprehensive one-way system in and out of the buildings.”
Exhibitors will be expected to wear masks at least while unloading and visitors will have to ask before handling objects and sanitise their hands, with or without gloves, before picking anything up.
Yourston adds that any hope of getting back to business is contingent on hotels opening in time to host travelling dealers.
Like auction houses, galleries as well as shops and indoor markets have permission to reopen from June 15 in England if the Government’s five tests are met and they follow the new ‘Covid-19 secure’ guidelines.
Devolved nations of the UK other than England will be easing their lockdowns at a pace determined by their own governments.
For indoor markets opening this month, such as the arcades in Portobello Road, work is under way to reassure dealers it is safe to return.
Portobello Group, owner of a number of arcades along the street, is planning to begin trading on June 20 and is encouraging dealers to commit to returning.
Portobello Group’s Ryan Todd said: “We are hoping for solidarity among dealers for the reopening and have been as accommodating as we can.”
The group will mark aisles with 2m lines, provide sanitiser stations, cleaning post- and pre-opening and offer visors or masks and gloves for traders who do not have their own.
However, there are still concerns about how many dealers will return this month.
Costas Kleanthous , chairman of Portobello Antiques Dealers Association, said: “It is a real mixed picture. Some dealers do not have confidence that social distancing will be managed effectively. People, of course, want to come back and make money, but they have a lot of concerns.”
Issues such as how customers can handle objects, how they can be cleaned if handled and how the numbers of visitors will be limited are all being looked at in Portobello Road and beyond.
Jim Gallie, manager of Battlesbridge Antiques Centre in Essex, is also preparing to reopen its doors on the June 15. He predicts that the majority of dealers will be returning, although some are still self-isolating to protect their own or others’ health.
For those in a position to return to work, the reopening is hotly anticipated. “We have to be positive,” says dealer Garry Edwards who trades in antiquities at York Antiques Centre and other northern centres. “In the second week of March everything ground to a halt. People have spent the best part of three months away from pubs, restaurants and shops so when the high streets reopen and we have some normality back it’s fair to say that everyone with disposable income will be like a dog let off a lead.”
For the dealers, he says, it’s about getting “back to basics. Every centre is working out a way to do it and we’re moving forward.”
Visitors will also be able to return to view the stock of more than 350 dealers at the Hemswell Antique Centres near Gainsborough in Lincolnshire from June 15.
Managing director Robert Miller said: “While the skeleton team have been busy with good online sales and answering enquiries over the past couple of months, we know that there is no substitute for a visit in person.
“All our staff will be attending a full induction and I have introduced strict social distancing, incorporating clear one-way systems throughout the buildings along with desk screens and extra hygiene procedures.”
Volunteer social-distancing wardens will also be on duty.
Traders needing more information on the government stipulated risk assessments and for guidance on how to be ‘Covid-secure’ should use the information on the Health and Safety Executive website at hse.gov.uk.
For more on dealers and fairs reopening see this week's Dealers' Diary.