Bicycle and car parts retailer Halfords has defended its decision to keep shops open amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Its autocentre garages and mobile vans remain open, with plans for “partial store coverage” across its 446 shops.
Boss Graham Stapleton said the chain had “an essential role to play in keeping the country moving”.
Halfords drew criticism after it said it would keep some stores open after being named by the government as an “essential provider of services”.
#BoycottHalfords was trending on social media on Tuesday. Some Twitter users cited concerns over a lack of protection for on-site workers.
In a trading update, the firm said: “We are committed to playing our part, but only if we can ensure the health and safety of our colleagues and customers.”
It also said it had the “legal flexibility to remain open across the entire business”.
Mr Stapleton added that the chain had a part to play “in providing vital support to emergency workers, fleet operations and the general population as they travel for essential supplies”.
It will also continue to take orders online via home delivery services and click-and-collect once branches have reopened.
Halfords added said it was offering all NHS frontline workers a free 10-point car check during the coronavirus pandemic.
Other bicycle firms such as Brompton Bicycle, a folding bike specialist, have lent bicycles to staff at hospitals in London to help them get to and from work.
After strict new restrictions were brought in by government earlier this week, it issued a list of “essential retailers”, such as Halfords, that are allowed to stay open. They include:
- Supermarkets and other food shops
- Petrol stations
- Bicycle shops
- Home and hardware stores
- Launderettes and dry cleaners
- Pet shops
- Post offices
Dusting old bikes off
Trade industry bodies had previously said that bicycle retailers and repair shops had seen a spike in demand as people “clean the cobwebs off” their old bikes in an attempt to avoid public transport during the pandemic.
Jonathan Harrison of the Association of Cycle Traders told the BBC that “there had been an uplift in sales across the board, with larger retailers also reporting more ‘entry-level’ bikes going.”
However, he pointed out that with more consumers staying in due to the new government restrictions, “it’s difficult to know whether or not that trend will continue.”
Halfords said on Wednesday that it expected sales to fall by about 25% in the new financial year, due to the impact of the coronavirus.
For its stores and garages that will close during the outbreak, the firm also said it would tap into the support offered by government to pay 80% of salary for staff who are kept on, covering wages of up to £2,500 a month.