Shops in Andover are looking forward to a “promising” future as non-essential retail reopens today (April 12).

Non-essential retailers have had to close their physical premises during lockdown, though have been able to operate online during the pandemic. Businesses speaking to the Advertiser said that customers were already coming back to see them.

Dave Stanbridge, from Tip Top Balloons, said: “It’s nice to have everyone back in. We’ve seen both new and loyal and existing customers, and we’re quite pleased with that.”

Steve Godwin, Andover BID Manager, agreed, saying it reflected the wider business community’s view.

“Today’s reopening has been absolutely fantastic,” he said. “All the businesses have reported the town has an incredible buzz.”

He said that the town was busy, “but not manic”, with queues remaining constant, particularly at barbers and salons.

“Businesses are very pleased,” he said. “A number have gone online as well during the pandemic. They’re not complacent.”

This is reflected by Dave, who has taken a cautious approach to reopening.

“Some staff are still on furlough,” he said. “I don’t want to have them back too soon just in case, but I’m hopeful about the reopening.”

However, he said that the events side of the businesses was starting to pick up, with “more and more enquiries” about balloons for weddings and other occasions coming in.

Steve said that this was part on an increased tendency by Andoverians to spend their money in the high street’s independent businesses.

“There’s a tendency to support local now,” he said, “more so than before lockdown. People have told me they’re willing to spend a little extra in local businesses.”

Andover’s high street has also received good news in the form of a report from financial services firm Raisin, which placed Test Valley’s high streets as the fifth strongest in the UK, and most likely to weather the pandemic.

Commenting on the report, the leader of Test Valley Borough Council, Cllr Phil North, said: “I was heartened to read the Strongest Local Economy report, which has mapped the locations with the largest number of independent businesses. Test Valley ranks the fifth best in the country for the highest likeliness to weather the storm post Covid-19.

“This fits with what I’ve been saying for some time in that the national move away from identikit town centres, where chain stores have a unit in every town put us in a comparatively decent position. You’ve only got to look to Basingstoke, which has lost both Debenhams and John Lewis in recent weeks to see the stark reality of the change.

“Unique and independent are now becoming the watchwords for successful town centres - alongside some key anchor stores. Thankfully, as the report points out, Andover and Test Valley already have a higher percentage of independents than in many other areas.

“Despite that, and the various support grants and rate reliefs administered by TVBC, the four month hiatus means that our small and independent businesses need our support more than ever. I hope, therefore, that you’ll join me in visiting our local and town centre businesses this week.”