THE first thing customers will now notice as they walk into Oliver’s Harry Potter shop is a magical hand gel dispenser.

One drop of Luna Lepor’s Hand Tonic will cleanse both hands, a sign advertises.

The custom-made automatic hand sanitiser station is one of the ways Oliver’s is adapting to new coronavirus safety guidelines.

From its quaint and compact premises in Trafalgar Street, Brighton, the store has been supplying the city with wizard wheezes for more than two years.

The Argus:

But it has undergone a transformation since reopening on June 15, when the Covid-19 lockdown eased and more businesses were allowed to reopen.

Customers must now book in advance to visit the shop and they are given half-hour slots to look round.

Owner Oliver Dall believes the nature of businesses in the city has altered.

He said: “The retail game has changed. People are coming to Brighton with a purpose now – they’re not so much here to browse.

“There needs to be an experence for them when they get here – a wow factor, or they won’t be excited.

“We’ve started doing booking only – like a private, exclusive viewing of the shop.

“It’s been working really well – customers feel special and it makes people feel safe.”

The Argus:

Oliver is considering making the shop’s new way of doing things a permanent fixture.

He said: “A noticeable percentage of our customers have anxiety, or things going on in their lives that put them off going shopping where they could be bombarded by a crowd.

“They like the idea of a comfortable space.”

He likens the experience to a private tour. Oliver’s is crammed with stuff, and there’s a lot to see.

Cabinets groan with models of Hedwig, Cornish pixies and Harry’s official glasses. There’s Godric Gryffindor’s sword, wizard’s chess, the Triwizard trophy.

Then there’s Dumbledore’s poisoned chalice, Rowena Ravenclaw’s tiara and a mini-fridge stocked with butterbeer.

Oliver said: “There’s no pressure to buy anything and customers don’t have to use the whole half hour.

“The bookings schedule has been jam-packed – we’ve been almost fully booked every day.

“And I really enjoy it too – now, I’m guaranteed a decent conversation with my customers.”

Unlike many shops that had to shut under the Covid-19 lockdown, Oliver’s did not start trading online.

He said there is only so much online retailers can do to make their customers feel special – fancy packaging and rapid delivery, he said, are no match for the joy of visiting his shop in person.

“I dabbled with doing it online, but it completely goes against what we stand for,” he said.

“When customers come inside the shop, they feel like they’ve escaped the modern world – that’s one of the reasons why they come.”

Devoted Harry Potter fans visit from as far as Australia and South America to see first hand what it is like inside Oliver’s.

He said they sometimes book a night in Brighton purely to see the shop.

And die-hard Harry Potter collectors often like to look at what they’re buying in the flesh. Oliver said: “I’m the same – I’m a geek at heart and when I see Harry Potter merchandise in person, it’s completely different to buying something online.”

Oliver is proud of his store. He lives above it and because it is freehold, he said he has been able to transform it into the shop of his dreams.

He told The Argus last year that he wants to sustain the Harry Potter fantasy for customers as they come inside.

And Harry Potter, he said, is important.

Oliver said: “It’s the escapism. It’s another world, so magical that anything can happen.

“A large percentage of our customers have autism and many have had challenging lives.

“It’s the fantasy, the pure magic of it, the warmth and comfort of having grown up with these characters.

“They’re amazing role models.

“Look at Harry: he goes from living in a cupboard under the stairs to riding on the back of a hippogriff.

“He goes from having a terrible life to a magical adventure.”