Published: 06:00, 08 April 2021
| Updated: 16:09, 08 April 2021
The streets of Rochester may seem quiet now, but behind closed doors the shopkeepers and business owners are brimming with excitement for restrictions to loosen on April 12.
Wandering along the historic street, you'll notice boxes being carried from vans into shops and people inside the buildings working away to prepare for customers to return.
Nina Minhard, 24, is opening the Three Sheets to the Wind pub with her family - which will be honouring their Anglo-Austrian roots with traditional beers, lagers, wines and other beverages.
The new pub was forced to stay closed throughout lockdown so its grand opening will be on April 12 as visitors return to the high street where they will be able to book tables in its back garden.
Nina said: “This is a completely new venture for all of us. We've been doing this for quite a few months now and getting everything ready - we just want to share it with everyone.
“The building wasn't a pub before so we've had to completely build the whole set-up.
"We've been making sure the garden is socially distanced and setting up track-and-trace so we’re in a position to open and keep everyone safe.”
Rochester shop owners talk about preparations and being excited to open up
The family hope the 500-year-old building will make a great attraction to local residents who flock to the High Street when non-essential shops are allowed to open on Monday.
She added: “It's got so much character. It had some adaptations in the Victorian era so it has got a huge brick chimney which runs throughout the whole building and it's got gorgeous wooden beams and original wood flooring.
"It’s really important for us that we don't take away from the conservation and heritage of Rochester.
“It's a very exciting time but everyone should just be cautious, be kind to each other and stay safe - wash your hands.”
Sadly, another of Rochester's historic pubs The George Vaults will not be allowed to open its 14th century vault in the basement.
However, staff have been hard at work revamping the inside and setting up 24 socially distanced tables outside - which are already booked up for the first day.
Manager Zak Warwood said: “We're excited to be back open. Our regular customers will see a change straight away as they walk through.
"We've had several refurbishments done on the bar itself and the guys working here have a brand new cocktail station to get cracking on.
“On April 12, we’ve only got the garden available and can only sit six maximum to a table. But we've got a beautiful garden bar that we're going to open up.
“We will have a one way system coming in, it’ll be roped off inside and guests will be taken to their designated table.
"We're only offering two hour time slots because we've got such a high demand.
“We're fortunate enough to have a beautiful garden. We just can’t wait to see people's faces again.”
Many shops down the High Street have been making the most of the time spent locked away.
Behind the scenes, the family run crafts and book shop, Store 104, have been revamping the premises, opening up a new floor and building a cafe in the back.
Patrick Fysh, the co-owner of Store 104 and Francis Iles Galleries, said: "We're really excited for next week and getting people back in.
"We've done really well with click-and-collect web orders. But actually with the nature of what we sell - books and yarn and the goods - it really helps by people actually being able to look at them.
"We opened in August with social distancing measures and it was all going really well.
"Before Christmas they obviously shut us down again - which is understandable and I completely agree with how they did that - but it's been a bit tough.
"But it's almost like we can open afresh.
"As independent retailers we don't really have an option to close so we kind of went the opposite way and became as big as possible."
To keep shoppers safe, the store will have hand sanitisers at the door and in the middle of the store. There will be an isolation zone for returned items.
Staff at The Herbalist Company have also been sprucing up the garden for visitors to enjoy a cup of CBD coffee when shops reopen next week.
Alex Garrett, co-owner of the store, said: "Everyone's has been impacted by lockdown in certain ways. I'm not going to say that we've been fine and the rest of the High Street hasn't been fine.
"But we're still here, we're ready to reopen and we just can't wait to welcome everybody back in and do what we do best.
"Safety measures were in place before the first lockdown, so we have screens behind the counters.
"We've used lockdown to do our garden and make it fit for public use. It will allow people to have a bit more interaction, more space to have social distancing and still have the same sort of vibe."
Some stores have been able to stay open throughout and offer take-away or deliveries. But they are still excited to have the crowds return to the streets.
David Luck, 41, owner of Chuck and Blade Burgers, said: "It's going to be good if we can have more people in the street that don't feel as though they shouldn't be here.
"It's just going to be nice to have people meet up as friends and get food together.
"Obviously we've only got limited space outside but the business itself has been going strength to strength.
"So preparing for next week really is more of the same of what we already do. We've got a whole system for online payments and bookings - whether that's take-away or deliveries.
"There's not much we can do other than try and get seating outside. We're treating it as though we're going to open up as a full restaurant - even though the whole thing is just full of takeaway packaging. No one can sit anywhere anyway."
After opening as a pop-up in May last year, the burger joint has taken over the shop and has recently opened another store in Canterbury.