- Credit: Archant
I have never made any secret as to why I do the job I do. I love the local area, I love community spirit and I love local entrepreneurialism. I have a passion for promoting all that is good in our North Somerset towns and I really believe we are extremely lucky to have so much going for us. I also have a lot of energy for promoting local independent businesses, but why you might ask?
I grew up in a family newsagent’s on Cabstand in Portishead. My parents worked so hard, from 6am until 6pm seven days a week (we closed at 4pm on Sundays but still had plenty to do before we could call it a day). It was a way of life and everyone in the family got involved.
Delivering papers at 6am every morning was a thankless task and I still to this day take my hat off to those who do this job. I got a good grounding in the highs and lows of running a small independent business. For many years the business thrived. Good customer service was ingrained in us, the customers were our bread and butter and so we needed to remember the names of our regulars so that we could greet them properly when they came through the door and we needed to remember their regular purchases so they knew how important they were to us. We worked closely with other newsagents in the town: Mays and Keen and Derek Payne’s. We may have been competitors but we felt there was enough business for all of us. We’d take it in turns to collect the Clevedon Mercury’s for each other and even loan stock to one another if one of us ran out of something before a delivery. The camaraderie was amazing. My dad also bought the shop across the road for my sister to run as a greengrocer’s. He didn’t like an easy life, the market opened at the crack of dawn!
We saw many small businesses come and go. Rents are high in and around Portishead High Street, rates are even higher. It’s tough running your own business and working hard to meet the demands of customers to ensure they keep coming back is a 24/7 challenge. To this end we would always try and think outside the box. If it snowed, we would deliver papers, milk, bread and essentials on a sledge. If it was boiling hot we would serve iced drinks and fans.
My dad was active in the Chamber of Trade, he was instrumental in the launch of the first crazy raft race on the eve of carnival and I can remember us having to dress in costume for the annual Victorian Evening, complete with market barrow.
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My mum and dad worked hard and reaped the benefits. Some years later my parents sold the shop. I left school, got a job and got married, as you do! My dad missed the shop hugely and so when I was ready for a career change my parents, my husband and I decided to buy the shop back together. It wasn’t for sale but that didn’t stop us. We paid over the odds for it but that didn’t worry us because we knew we could make a success of it.
Unfortunately just after we moved back in, the road outside was closed for major drainage works. Our passing trade stopped overnight. The garage across the road started selling newspapers to meet the needs of the rush hour customers and day by day our trade declined. The road was supposed to be closed for three weeks but as it ran in to months we knew we were in trouble. We had a number of loyal customers but that early morning passing trade was vital, we would take 75% of our day’s takings before 9am.
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It was the late 1980s. Black Monday hit. Interest rates soared.
All those customers who stopped coming when the road was closed found a new route to work stopping at the garage for their newspapers and snacks and by the time the road eventually reopened they were already used to their new routine; few returned. They didn’t realise that the small, independent business they had previously used every day was counting on them for survival.
Eventually debts started to mount, the business was no longer sustainable and we lost everything we owned apart from the clothes we stood up in. It was a huge learning curve, a valuable lesson. Sadly, it affected my father’s health, which I’m sure contributed to his early death, but it has left me with this burning desire to support and help local independent businesses wherever I can.
During the coronavirus pandemic we have seen how small, local businesses have supported their communities. How they have embraced diversity, thought outside the box and pulled out all the stops to deliver goods, provide online advice and adapt their businesses to meet customer needs. Many have also given back to their communities offering services above and beyond expectations. Just as we have needed them, please remember they need you and they will need you more than ever as restrictions start to ease. If the local economy is to recover from the consequences of the pandemic shopping locally is going to be vital.