A MAJOR retailer in Bournemouth is under fire for continuing to trade despite the coronavirus lockdown.

The Range, at Turbary Retail Park, is allowed to stay open because it sells some items classed as essential alongside its garden, homeware and arts and crafts items.

Thousands of people have signed an online petition calling on the Plymouth-based chain to close its stores.

One Daily Echo reader said: “A telephone discussion with a member of staff confirmed that the shop is allowed to remain open because it sells homewares and pet food .

“This is true but it also has a huge arts and crafts department and a large toy department. Other departments include furniture, clothing, carpets, paint and wallpaper as well as tools. It also has a garden centre.

“This store is a potential hotbed for incubating the virus. Most of the aisles are too narrow for social distancing.

“At the very least, access to everything other than permitted items, such as pet food, homewares and food (although I do not consider chocolate, biscuits, fizzy drinks and crisps to be essential) should be blocked.”

A petition on the website change.org had attracted almost 13,500 signatures at the start of the weekend, while protesters on Twitter were using the hashtags #clossetherage and #boycotttherange.

Louise Barlow, who started the petition, said the Range should have signed up to the government’s offer to pay up to 80 per cent of the wages of staff who were sent home.

“It is not imperative for them to be at work. We have our actual supermarkets to supply us with food. We do not need the range to stay open for the likes of a couple of packets of ham,” she wrote.

“While the rest of the UK is doing their bit, closing businesses big and small, taking a financial hit to ensure the safety of us all, they deem themselves ‘essential’ and have no regard for their staff’s health and safety.”

One signatory, who said they were a member of staff at the Range, said: “The most commonly bought and sought-out products I have witnessed over the last two days have been barbecues and garden chairs. I am disgusted that this is being allowed to continue.

“The Range most close its non-essential departments at the very least.”

Staff have been issued with a letter they can present if questioned by authorities about whether their journey to work is essential.

It says the stores are not covered by the government’s order to close non-essential shops, adding: “Please rest assured that we are working hard to ensure that appropriate social distancing measures are adhered to.”

The Range did not respond to three requests by the Daily Echo for comment.