I am fairly certain that a very large proportion of the people on this planet are finding this a very surreal time right now. I certainly am. I should be at work in my shop, greeting people, helping people choose lovely gifts, playing great music, and connecting with our customers. But three weeks ago that came to an abrupt halt. First and foremost, we had to go indoors and isolate. For everyone’s sake.
And so here I am, suddenly with the time to start the blog I always wanted to start but never had the time to. Understandably, the niceties of retail seem, in some ways, utterly irrelevant right now given people’s worries about their health, and that of their loved ones, of the insecurities surrounding jobs, and of the lack of clarity as to how long this will all go on for. But the longer this goes on the more I realise that retail is not irrelevant or remote at a time like this.
I have been looking back to ten years ago when I first opened my shop (it was quite different then to what it is now. That’s a story for another time). At that point I had run an online shop for nearly 5 years, and it was a solitary existence. As a natural blabbermouth who had previously worked in a busy office as a solicitor, working alone, it turned out, did not suit me. Opening the doors for the first time and welcoming in the public was exciting and building a customer base and following.
Having an independent shop is about many things. Local shops provide a public service. They give instant gratification and convenience. They offer something different. They give a personalised customer service. All of the things that you cannot get online. Now that is what me as a shopkeeper can provide, as well as a beautiful shop front to help enhance the local community and be another reason for people to want to come into town and linger.
But something else has happened over the past ten years as the online behemoth has put paid to small indies up and down the country (and a lot of big multiples as well). Shopping local and shopping independent becomes a positive life choice, part of who you are and what you believe in: a vote of confidence in the place you live and/or work. An investment in your own town or city and its success.
Perhaps some people don’t realise the power they have. But how and where you spend your money is very powerful indeed. I have been supporting Shop Local and Shop Independent movements for a decade. But now, during lockdown, even when so many shops are closed or on reduced hours, I realise it is more important and more powerful than ever.
We don’t know what our towns and cities will look like when this is all over, but we worry that we will lose many viable and valuable businesses. I believe however that we can help reduce this potential devastation now. We can do this by continuing to shop local and independent with the businesses that we value now. Here are a few ways you can do this:
- Certain food shops remain open but on reduced hours. Check their websites, Facebook and Instagram posts and see if you can place orders for collection. I have been shopping at local favourites Casella & Polegato and Provender Brown (for bread and for other deli foods respectively).
- Gift shops like ours often have online shops. If you would normally have popped in to their shop to buy a gift, do this with them online rather than going to a bigger retailer online. Because the money you spend with them now will help ensure they are there for you when lockdown ends. Plus they often have much faster dispatch than the larger stores as they aren’t dealing with the high volume of orders.
- Shops that do not have an online ecommerce site may still take orders via email or social media. Be sure to check in on your favourite shops’ social media to see what the latest is with them and what sort of services they are offering.
- Buy a gift voucher. Many of these businesses can do with the cash flow now to pay their rent and other expenses. By doing this you are in effect giving them a monetary vote of confidence: that you are willing to support them now, but can cash in the voucher when things are back to normal.
- Order from local restaurants. Many of our incredible local eateries have set up entirely as takeaways during this period. You can order online and have it delivered to your door. Again, you are helping to ensure they can pay their bills during this lean period and help guarantee that there will be a wonderful restaurant to socialise in when this is over.
More now than ever I feel the deep sense of us all being in this together. Your local shopkeepers and restauranteurs have worked hard to build a vibrant, lovely city, and so many more exciting developments are still on the horizon. We can all do our bit to ensure that we stay on course as a city and a community. We all have power. We all have a part of play. We all benefit.
Stay safe, stay indoors. Keep shopping local and independent. It is still possible.