AS MONMOUTHSHIRE’s non-essential shops reopened this morning after much build-up, the outcome was a little subdued, but there was room for optimism.

Business owners and residents said they had been “surprised” by the lack of presence on the high streets to welcome back a town well thought of for its ability to help independent businesses thrive.

Some shops are yet to reopen while business owners which have opened said that while it is understandable people are a little reluctant, they hope footfall picks up again soon.

Lucy Hywel, owner of That’s Lovely That and joint founder of Y Fenni Business Community, said she is “surprised there aren’t as many shops open”, but said she understands the reluctance.

Free Press Series: Lucy HywelLucy Hywel

“It is clear that shop owners and shoppers have been very cautious,” she said. “I think perhaps people think they’ve done so much to get this far, so are cautious to take that first step out.

“I liken it to something I’ve experienced recently. I was very ill and making that first step back is hard. We’ve got to make sure we’re providing the right environment for people to know they can dip their toes back in.”

The shop owners certainly have done that. Ms Hywel has fitted her own makeshift screen for the till, given that the budget is tight, while there is plenty of hand sanitiser.

At Cwtch Café, owner Jo Nicholson has also fitted her own screen, and was out scrubbing the shop front on Monday morning, but she is yet to reopen.

Free Press Series: Jo NicholsonJo Nicholson

“I’ll be opening this Thursday from 10am until 2pm and will be doing the same on Friday and Saturday,” she said. “I’ll be doing that on my own for now but then I will have a review in July.

Asked about Monmouthshire council’s aims to bring a “café culture” to Monmouthshire’s high streets with businesses able to expand outside, Ms Nicholson said it will be a “good thing for the town”, although she stressed the importance of Monmouthshire council cancelling car parking charges until the end of the year, like has been seen in other counties in the region.

James Brailey of Retreat Clothing, which opened on Monday, said it was “much quieter than expected”, but online business is still picking up and has got him through a tough period.

He says that for high streets like Abergavenny’s to continue to thrive, it is now “critical for people to come to the high street”.

Free Press Series: Don ClissoldDon Clissold

Don Clissold, aged 82, who has lived in the town all his life, said: "I come here every day and did do during lockdown. It was horrible to see the place so quiet, but today is good.

"The town has been a paradise for me. It's a friendly town and it deserves a great high street. I hope to see the shops buzzing again."