As the lockdown gradually eases it’s a pleasure to meander down the high street once again. Things are moving at a slower pace, with fewer people around, despite long queues outside the bank and supermarket. The fabric of the town has survived the pandemic and people are keeping their social distance in a casual sort of way. I’ve missed hearing fruit vendors yelling at the tops of their voices, and bumping into some familiar faces, grateful that so many of us are not only still here, but even looking restored and refreshed from the newfound freedom of working from home.

I’m looking forward to falling back into my trivial little routines, sipping a cappuccino al fresco and buying a top in H&M. I’ve missed browsing in Waterstones, perusing endless bookcases filled with the latest publications. It’s a relief to be flicking through a new book again without having to type the title into a search bar. I love spontaneously discovering new authors that I didn’t even know I was looking for!

We walk along Holywell Hill to Simply French. It’s such a colourful boutique and the window display draws me in. I pick up a stylish silky scarf, boldly printed in red and animal print. I chat with Leslie the owner about the last few difficult months. We then wander around Chloe James and Raindrops on Roses and enjoy looking at the jewellery, some velvet make-up bags and smelling the scented candles. I buy a wild peony soap and suddenly realise that I have momentarily forgotten all of my stresses and am hunter-gathering for things that I didn’t realise I wanted!

We stop off at CEX and buy a couple of DVDs. I enjoy the act of randomly searching along the shelf for a classic movie. I pick up Judy as I hear that Renee Zellweger gives a brilliant performance in that and Mickey Blue Eyes with Hugh Grant for a giggle. Next, my daughter suggests we explore Poundland and tells me she always finds something interesting there. We end up leaving the store with a pair of headphones, as I have given her my old ipod, and a packet of white lily bulbs for my garden.

We wander around with our cappuccinos. I feel sad to see that Monsoon has closed down and that Debenhams won’t be re-opening in Watford or Welwyn. Long Tall Sally and Laura Ashley have already ceased trading. My daughter cheers me up as we pass by the retail unit where Jack Wills used to be and tells me all about Anthropologie, due to open very soon. It sells an eclectic mix of clothing, accessories, gift and homewares and that “Even Helena Bonham Carter buys the odd dress there!” she assures me. “Oh well in that case it must be cool!” I enthuse with a smile.

This pandemic has been like an earthquake high on the Richter scale for many smaller and traditional retailers that simply didn’t survive. New shops will be born and businesses like Anthropologie will rise from the rubble. I’m sure this American upmarket store will do very well in St Albans. Globalisation has inevitably come to us and the grim truth is that other more modest UK retailers just can’t afford such a premium location.

Smaller retailers will have to actively embrace this brave new world, work on building their online communities and thereby sustaining a loyal clientele. Hopefully they can thrive alongside the ecommerce giants, invest and adapt to new ways of trading and learn more about changing shopping habits while being supported by their customers.

Professor KL Milkman from the University of Pennsylvania, a researcher into economics and psychology, claims that momentous occasions in our lives (like this pandemic) can create a ‘kick-start effect’, motivating us to instil new habits, see time differently and take a broader view, potentially making us more resilient with deeper connections and clarity on how we want to live our lives.

So, it seems that the new normal has already begun and many more people have already switched to online shopping. Personally, I have not particularly enjoyed shopping online over the past few months and have no intention of depriving myself from the fun of shopping (even if it does mean wearing a mask). The physical and mental aspects of retail therapy are not to be underestimated. After all, Carrie Bradshaw assures us that “Shopping is (her) cardio” and American singer Tammy Faye Bakker reminds us that “shopping is cheaper than a psychiatrist!”

  • Marisa Laycock moved to St Albans in 2000. She enjoys sharing her experiences of living in the city. These columns are also available as podcasts from 92.6FM Radio Verulam at .