Bishop's Stortford pubs endure tough Covid Christmas but look ahead to a better 2022
Publicans in Bishop's Stortford are hoping business picks up in the new year following a festive season disrupted by Covid-19.
Several establishments in the town were forced to close their doors during what would normally have been their busiest period of the year in the run-up to Christmas. Staff shortages and booking cancellations were the result of positive Covid tests.
Michelle Brace, landlady of the Wheatsheaf in Northgate End, said that it had been "dire", with the last few weeks hampered by cancellations and the anxious wait for news on how the Government planned to proceed.
"We had to close on Christmas Eve eve [December 23] because myself and my children tested positive for coronavirus and there was no way we could manage all the hours with staffing levels low.
"We've been trying to operate with less staff anyway because it was always going to be impossible this Christmas to get staff in and trained up in time.
"We've always tried to be one step ahead, but in the lead-up to Christmas it was a really bad week because we had three different parties booked in – the rugby club, school mums – and they all had to cancel because they had so many people going down with the virus.
"People did the right thing in cancelling because nobody wants to risk Christmas being messed up. I understand entirely as we had to lock down, but once again it's been pretty dire."
The Wheatsheaf reopened on Tuesday (December 28) and Michelle said they were all clear of the virus now and hopeful of being able to go ahead with their planned New Year’s Eve party, a ticketed event which runs from 8pm to 1am with live music.
The Coach and Horses at Thorley Street announced on its social media pages that it had been forced to close until the new year due to “unforeseen circumstances”.
It shut on December 21 for the rest of the month and will reopen in January. The venue is owned by Hertford-based pub company McMullen, which could not be reached for a comment. Earlier in the month it stepped up to offer a last-minute venue for Bishop's Stortford Age Concern's Christmas dinner.
Town centre café Coffee Corner, in South Street, is closed until January 8, though it is not known if this is related to Covid. It could not be reached for a comment.
For Adam Curtis, landlord of The Cock Inn at Hockerill, his team of four had managed to keep the pub's doors open to customers over the festive period, although the past week had been quieter as people were "wary" of going out.
He said they were taking precautions to ensure customers felt safe visiting the pub for New Year's Eve. "Our small team tests every day and so far we've managed to keep it at bay," he said. "We've put screens back up around the bar to give us better protection and there's no standing at the bar.
"We have a singer on New Year's Eve who will be socially distanced and we're not going to overcrowd the place. We wouldn't anyway, but it's just about being safe and keeping it at a level our customers are comfortable with."
Adam said that the talk among Stortford publicans was that most had been able to experience "some level of trade", adding: "Anything this year is a bonus because we were all shut last year.
"It's not all doom and gloom and I'm lucky as I have a good local following. We look forward to having a better year next year with the Queen's Platinum Jubilee and extra bank holidays."