Sunday 25 February 2018

Let's commit to a long-term retail romance

Lay of the land

It's not cheating to avail of the choices offered by supermarkets
It's not cheating to avail of the choices offered by supermarkets

Fiona O'Connell

'Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue," goes the saying. Certainly, you always know when it's going to rain confetti around this country town, instead of the usual cats and dogs. Notices secured to telegraph poles provide the name of the love-birds about to join together in married bliss, alongside directions to the local church.

But the rhyme could equally apply to maintaining a long-term romance with old-time traders. We need to find a way to preserve the best of the old even as we embrace the new - before it's too late.

It's not cheating to avail of the choices offered by supermarkets. Yet why must we abandon these once bustling little businesses in the process? We resemble magpies, with our fickle fondness for anything shiny and foreign. As if homespun stores with actual surnames on their signs are second-rate.

Resulting in "something borrowed" becoming the burdensome reality for these retailers. Because once swamped by debts, longevity is no guarantee of survival. Which leaves us all with "something blue", in the form of towns devoid of charm and character, having allowed these cornerstones of the community go under.

So I was reminded by a sad little snippet in a local newspaper, concerning the closure of one of the oldest shops in another area. What made its demise all the more depressing was the fact that it had been in business for 99 years. Yet they didn't get to mark their centenary.

Some say we have a duty to support local shops. But shouldn't doing so be a delight? Or do we really want to surround ourselves with soulless shopping malls and chain stores, their head offices located on far-flung continents?

And it's not just locals who lose out because of a lack of loyalty. Many visit these shores in search of independent stores that have vanished from their own communities.

The owner of the 150-year-old clothes shop on this town's Main Street has kept the original name above her door. Which is how tourists from New Zealand were able to sit at the very same desk where their father had once worked as a tailor decades before, in what turned out to be "a very tearful encounter".

The proprietor cuts to the chase - as you might expect from someone with a propensity for plastering the walls with sassy posters. Including a "bullshit bag" that catches my eye while she was talking.

"They were very emotional just coming in here, because so little has changed. The tourists want the shops with old names, Fiona - but they are disappearing. The planners give all the space to the Aldis and Tescos - when these are the places that are unique to Ireland."

Because you know what they also say? If it ain't broke - don't fix it. And definitely forget divorce.

Sunday Independent

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