On our way to our favourite doughnut shop this week, I asked my daughter "if you owned a shop, what kind of shop would it be?" This sparked a conversation about all the hopes and dreams my 10-year-old has, with her life stretched out before her. For me, it was a chance to imagine a different life for myself and indulge in a little daydreaming.
I know when I've asked people this, they look wistful, and their eyes sparkle with thoughts of what could be. My sister Catherine once said she would love to own a flower shop - selling tulips and teacakes, my sister Jo, would have liked to run a country pub, whilst my eldest sister Di dreams of being a skilled artisan on the BBC program The Repair Shop, Mine would be a soap shop, well to be super specific, a natural beauty apothecary in the picturesque harbour village of Salcombe, Devon. It would be called Soap & Co. and would sell all sorts of lovely, British made products, from soaps to creams, candles to perfumes. It would be like stepping into a spa, and give you a chance to look after yourself, support local business and reduce our impact on the planet. Not that I've given it much thought!
Playing shop is a favourite past time of many children. My daughter played pet shop with all her stuffed animals, and you could buy everything from a clown fish to a blue poodle! I on the other hand, used to play post office, and sit at my Nanna and Grandpa's open bureau desk, which smelt of old papers and sherry, and look through the post code book, using the rubber stamp and pretend I was very official and important. Another favourite game was being Teacher - writing out the register and calling out the names, making up sums and questions for my imaginary class to answer.
It is strange to think that I take the register and have classes of my own all these years later, and I wonder if what I played as a child stayed in my mind and eventually came through into reality. And as I've thought about what shop I would own now, as a grown up, it reflects the interests and values I hold, but also the ways in which I choose to escape and unwind. In fact, I would own a whole row of shops, selling everything from coffee and cake, plants and flowers, homewares, and lifestyle, to cards and stationery! Whilst this is all a lovely daydream, I am under no illusion as to how hard running a small business, let alone a bricks and mortar store, is today. Retail is filled with huge uncertainty and at the whim of circumstances beyond the shop keeper’s control. Living your dream is not always easy, and I know that there is a lot of blood, sweat and tears involved.
There is also a hefty dose of nostalgia wrapped up in my soap shop dream. One where there are villages and towns with stores, family run businesses, hand painted signs, and where you can buy all the everyday items that the butcher, the baker and candle stick maker can provide. Essentially, my retail imaginings are set in the early 1900's! Or at least the 1950's. Where each village had its own grocer, post office, hardware store, cafe, and other local businesses. When these shops had opening hours, with people who provided a specialist service and were closed on Sundays. Where items were wrapped in brown paper and could be bought in bulk or on tick. And a ruddy faced local boy delivered to those who could not get to the shops by themselves. Idyllic, yes. Unrealistic, I like to think not.
I am just old enough to remember this way of life in my local town, where proud shop owners had their names painted on the signs above the doors, and the streets were filled with shoppers looking to buy the best local fish, leather shoes, fruit and veg, tailored fashion or music. When at Christmas on a special festive night, each shop front was decorated and owners stood outside dressed up to welcome Father Christmas and late-night customers, and when these stores were closed early on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. I long for those days as I drive through my town, now filled with Turkish barbers, nail bars, vape parlours and cheap, fast fashion. I miss the families, the traditions, the pride in our town that was a jewel in the crown of South Wales and once known as 'The Queen of the Valleys'.
Call me old fashioned, (and that would be a compliment), but I think in our rush to embrace the new and 'move with the times', we've thrown the baby out with the bath water. The loss of our local high street, town stores or village shops is because we have replaced tradition with novelty, confusing forward thinking with trend setting, choosing too much over enough. The capitalist greed and marketing delusions of the late 20th and early 21st century have favoured more, more, more over the adage "buy cheap, buy twice". But this is not a popular message, to ask people to buy something once and make it last, or even repair it. And yet so many of us fill up storage containers, attics, and lofts with our hoarding or worse, throw away into landfill unused food, plastic toys, clothes, and home goods to the tune of 26,441 tonnes in the UK alone in 2019. I dread to think what that figure would be world-wide.
So, where does this leave us? Just daydreaming about selling soap. No, I think it brings us back full circle to the possibility of hopes and dreams, ideas of what could be. I know deep down, my shop dream is really a desire to see local shops on our streets, in our villages and towns thriving again. I'd like my children to grow up in a world where they know and love their town, it's shops, cafes, and businesses. I want to spend my money in places that are run by passionate people, who care about their customers and want to make a difference to their community. As much as I love the convenience of jumping in car to visit a retail park, or sitting in my pj's ordering online, nothing beats real face to face shopping: meeting, chatting, questioning the owners or staff of a business. Knowing that each purchase is meaningful to them and allows them to live their dreams of playing shop.
To celebrate some of the fantastic local, family run shops within the small towns and villages of South Wales, I have listed a few of my favourites below. Check them out online, follow their socials and if you are ever in the area, pop in to visit them in person. I know for a fact you will be met with a smile and a warm welcome. As we move forward in these times of change, let's be certain about how we can make a difference. Choose local when you can, shop small, reduce waste, and treasure what you have. Good things can be made to last.
Food and Drink
https://www.facebook.com/bradleys.coffee/ - Aberdare
https://greytreesbrewery.com - Aberdare
https://www.thatdoughnutplace.co.uk - Glynneath
https://www.10-below.co.uk - Treorchy
https://thatcococompany.com - Aberdare
https://thornbushhill.com - Cowbridge
Lifestyle & Interiors
https://www.littlehavenhome.co.uk - Aberdare
https://aleajewellers.co.uk - Aberdare
https://folkgatherhere.com - Cowbridge
https://stwff-stuff.co.uk - Cowbridge
Plants & Flowers
https://www.joysflowersaberdare.co.uk - Aberdare
https://www.lili-wen.co.uk - Treorchy
https://www.cosyfox.co.uk - Cowbridge
Beauty & Wellbeing
https://www.facebook.com/BelleBeautiqueByAlex/ - Mountain Ash near Aberdare
https://serenfachdesigns.co.uk - Treorchy
Image via Unsplash