Happy dancing is over. Small businesses need our support more than ever
It’s often said that when you support a small business, an actual person does a happy dance. In today’s trying times however, buying from our independent stores and makers does more than that: it might just help them survive into the new year.
If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard ‘not another charity shop/hairdressers/coffee shop’ in relation to an empty retail unit finding a new tenant then I’d treat myself to some serious caffeine-charged charity shop rummaging in every town in Wales. And I might even get myself a nice trim.
Alas, the scene is playing out across the country, and God bless anyone stepping in to our town centres to fill empty spaces in any way they can whilst providing employment to our local communities.
A toxic storm
Abergavenny is a prime example of a town that has fared differently to many others in Wales over recent years.
Bucking the trend shown by nearby towns such as Ebbw Vale and Blaenavon whose town centres are showing deep-set signs of struggle, Abergavenny has, until now, kept its head above the water – ironically with the help of valleys-folk with few places left to go.
There is, more importantly, more money to go around in Monmouthshire than the towns of Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen. Few neighbouring counties in Wales contrast so vastly in terms of deprivation.
A quick walk through Abergavenny’s high street this month, however, suggests that even one of the most well-to-do counties in Wales is starting to feel the pinch. Only just. But a few cracks are starting to show nonetheless.
A once-thriving department store, famed locally for its dedicated children’s toy floor, is now a charity superstore. A prominent estate agent building is empty, with other vacant units, including that of Wilkinson, waiting to be filled.
B&M and Poundland watch on from the sidelines.
Of course, Y Fenni still thrives in ways other Welsh towns could only dream of. A new independent book store opened just this year; the town’s reputation as a food capital is more than deserved, and a wealth of boutique independent stores, large and small, continue to give the town the X factor.
How long they can ride this toxic storm of extortionate rates, eye-watering utility bills, and a diminishing customer-base experiencing their own financial woes, however, is hard to tell.
Fighting the tide might seem impossible, especially when Amazon and the like can undercut even the best of prices, but collectively there are ways we can make a difference.
The grassroots Just a Card campaign was launched with a mission to encourage people to support, value and buy from artists, makers, independent shops and small businesses.
Every sale, even just a card, they say, is vital to a small business’s prosperity and survival.
Emma Bevan-Henderson helps to run the independent Makers Gallery in Abergavenny. The co-operative space supports local artists and makers, offering an alternative to mass-produced items, and also aims to help keep many of our traditional crafts alive.
Speaking about the benefit of shopping small and local, Emma said: “I’m a huge fan of the Just a Card campaign, as it echoes my own ethos, which is to support and showcase independent makers, and try to provide platforms for creatives. The campaign began after a gallery owner who had to close was chatting to her friend – she said if everyone who had come in and mentioned how lovely it was had just bought a card, she’d still be open.”
She added: “Supporting local isn’t anti-chain, we all need reasonably priced kettles or trainers etc, we just aim to think independent when looking for items such as personal gifts, home decor or local food and drink, whether that’s little treats or special occasions. When you purchase from an indie, that money is invested back into the local area through the network of local suppliers and spending – so you’re supporting an artist or craftsperson who has spent years training and making what they love, and helping the local economy to thrive. What’s exciting about that is, you are assured of something unique, and not necessarily expensive either.”
Heart of our communities
Discussing the need for a space for makers, Emma said: “The Gallery grew from being a part of artisan markets, and the realisation that many of us don’t have any way of being seen by the public unless we are attending markets and events. I suggested a collective, which I curate, and it’s been going six years, and now has a sister gallery at Craft Renaissance in Usk. This proves that authentic, unique, and handmade, is important to everyone, and we can’t thank our customers and supporters enough; we are thrilled when someone connects with our work and makes a purchase.”
She added: “Many small business owners and makers are holding down other jobs too, in order to help support their own creative practice and passions; the Just a Card message is important to us, because if more visitors do buy ‘just’ a card, bookmark, an artisan loaf, a local wine or even a gift voucher, it truly does help us survive and, hopefully, thrive.”
For many this festive season, getting by is going to be tough enough alone. No one needs the extra pressure of being told to pay more if they can’t. But where we can, and when we can, let’s not let the heart of our communities become a ghost of Christmas past.
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