Growing up in a village in Derbyshire, we only had one local grocers, a tiny post office that never seemed to be open, and a butcher’s van that used to announce itself with a resounding ‘moo’ just before Saturday tea-time. This prompted a queue of 70s housewives clutching their clasp purses under one armpit, and often a wriggling child under the other.
As well as the family-run grocers, down on the main road through Denby, there was a curious little wooden construction we called ‘the paper shop.’ A small painted shack, about six foot by eight, it had floorspace for three customers at most, plus a lovely woman called Brenda who resided behind the counter in her thick fluffy cardi. Reminiscent of The Cabin on Coronation Street, the walls festooned with sweets, cigarettes, newspapers, magazines and even the window was used to display a handful of small gifts and toys. In the winter months, the cramped space was heady with Calor gas fumes and there was always tinsel at Christmas.
Brenda lived on one of the council houses in our village and had a son around my mum’s age, they had gone to school together. As a consequence, they had a lot of common threads and she always seemed pleased to see us. Brenda was one of those kind ladies with curly brown hair and crinkles at the corner of her eyes when she smiled, and she seemed to smile a lot. She knew everyone in the village and always made a fuss of the children, she was the sort of woman that would just pop round with a present for the new baby in a family– my brother being one of the recipients eventually.
Call me sentimental, but I missed all those personal shopping experiences in the 90s when coincidentally I worked in a large city shopping centre. By then spending money was reduced to an EPOS transaction that was over in seconds and sales assistants began to recite from a script. These days you don’t even have to have any kind of conversation in some of the larger shops, you can literally serve yourself! My childhood experiences might be one of the reasons why I still favour the personal touch when I part with my cash and one of the reasons I enjoy living in a town like Beeston.
We have our fair share of self-supporting businesses in Beeston, some well-established like Hicklings, the friendly face of DIY, and Fred Hallam who have held their own against the supermarket chains. Chatting with friends, one tells me that the staff in Hallams have always helped her little girl buy strawberries on her own since she was three. She loves that they “put the receipt and change in her little hand.” We discussed how well Hallam’s readjusted to serve its community at the start of ‘lockdown’ another friend pointed out the locally grown produce they stock. Craig Dawson’s Family Butchers are also more than happy to advise you how to cook any of the meat you buy and are never phased when you might ask for ‘something cheap that you can slow cook.’ And then there are the perks – “Market stalls sometimes knock a bit off when you are a regular and they recognise your face.”
It is those personal touches that make the difference, and the genuine appreciation shown for your custom. Especially at the moment, you can see the joy in the faces of any local independent business owner that you give the opportunity to serve you. And this is because it IS personal to them. They have genuinely put all of their energy, time and their often their savings into creating their unique businesses because they are truly passionate about them. More than just a job, their involvement can be round the clock, constantly working to improve on what they can offer. In the same way that an independent relies on the support from their community, they also recognise the importance of supporting other local businesses.
Sure, it’s been a really tough year for all business, but the retail giants will probably survive by making a few cuts here and there, and I can imagine that online retailers like Amazon have actually thrived due to the pandemic. So it is vital that we help those gift shops, coffee shops, hair salons, restaurants, jewellers, newsagents and corner shops that make our town the vibrant and gloriously diverse place that it is. If they have had to close their doors for now, get in touch and shop online. Many of them have adapted well to making deliveries, you can even order your festive cocktails from the Berliner! Let’s try and make sure all of our independents are still here when we get to the other side – our local economy depends on it.
By shopping locally we are also less likely to spend money on fuel, wasting time in traffic and trying to find space in car parks. We can avoid getting caught up in the frenzied Christmas shopping experience. It might even allow us to slow down and live in the moment, appreciating the little things that make our festive season so special.
Shop small, for all!