High streets are at the very heart and soul of our towns and villages, and we all feel the benefits when they thrive – so shopping small and buying locally is a worthwhile investment in our communities.
Our local high streets are the lifeblood of our communities and are key in forming the identity of the places we call home. Whether it’s popping into an independently run café for a morning cuppa or picking up a bouquet from the florist, a stroll around our town or village centre connects us to where we live. It does good, too – every time we spend money in local businesses, the majority of it will go back into the community and help support people, producers and makers in our neighbourhood. While the past year of lockdowns has been difficult for small businesses, independent retailers are determined to strive on and keep the spirit of their local areas alive.
ART OF CRAFT
‘The high street is the centre of a community,’ says Sophie Rees, the owner of The Bristol Artisan, a shop that specialises in contemporary design and craft. ‘Small independent retailers play a key role in the local area and offer character and uniqueness to every town.’ When we’re out and about visiting shops on the high street, it’s clear that we get a very different experience from going to a department store or shopping online.
Sophie’s store stocks products from more than 60 independent makers from Bristol and beyond, and she believes it’s this that offers customers a valuable experience. ‘We often sell short runs of items that can’t be found elsewhere,’ says Sophie, ‘and have the time for added personal touches. Smaller shops can provide a more individual approach to customers.’ The Bristol Artisan’s stock means that ‘every purchase supports the creative industry,’ says Sophie, ‘and gives money back to the local economy. All in all, we’re helping to create a town we all want to live in.’
OLD AND NEW
‘Bricks and mortar stores are precious,’ says Jenny Wingfield who, along with her business partner Lauren Wallace, runs the interiors boutique Search & Rescue in London’s Stoke Newington. ‘They bring a combination of knowledge, curation and atmosphere that you get from being face-to-face with the small business owner,’ she explains. ‘We know a lot of the people behind the brands we stock, and many of our makers hand-deliver their orders to us. We tell customers their stories so they feel part of the experience and become invested in the success of these young brands.’
Jenny’s regular customers appreciate the eclectic mix of vintage furniture and cult favourites from a few international brands that sit alongside the pieces handmade by local artisans. ‘We stock over a hundred brands,’ she says, ‘but the curation process is instinctive. Our loyal customers continue to shop with us because they know there’s always something new and intriguing to spot, and that’s what the local high street can offer — the experience is all about discovery!’
Many businesses on the high street also offer a platform for other activities. In Somerset, the interiors and lifestyle shop Caro stocks pieces ranging from kitchenware and lighting to jewellery and skincare, and has become a destination for design lovers. The retailer has expanded its offering on Bruton High Street to include a separate studio space, which can be hired for workshops, exhibitions or even photoshoots, as well as a bed-and-breakfast for overnight stays. Other independent retailers around the country have embarked on similar projects, from hosting supper clubs to teaching calligraphy, showing the value that these spaces bring to local communities beyond simple retail outlets. The more we engage with small businesses, the more we can all experience the joys they bring.
Shopping from independent retailers on your local high street is a rewarding experience, and each time you support a small business you’re taking part in the circular economy that sustains a network of individuals who are passionate about their craft. Compare the pleasure of owning a painting by a local artist, for example, or a cushion made with textiles from a nearby mill to that of their mass-produced alternatives. Even if it’s just a few pieces that hold a special place in your heart, there’s a value in understanding where the things we buy come from. And there’s real delight in knowing they’ve been designed, made and sold locally.
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