I’ve started to notice an unwelcome trend developing on our high street in Teddington – the blight of the empty shop. It’s only a few at the moment but these things have a habit of escalating until you end up with the situation that developed in Buckingham where the town centre ended up being populated by a few banks, a couple of pubs and barbers/hairdressers, an growing clutch of charity shops and the rest just lying empty. The few remaining shops actually selling fresh and new products were seen off by the opening of a Tesco express which hoovered up the last bit of town centre trade not already attracted to its superstore no more than half a mile away on the town’s ring road. Before we’d left the town had lost its only clothes shop, hardware store, toy shop, book store, wine shop, two out of the last 3 jewellers and of course its Woolworths. It’s nothing like as bad in Teddington which remains bustling and has a varied shopping scene but I pass by a few shops every day and hardly ever see a soul in some of them. Have you noticed something similar in your town and wonder how a few of them manage to survive?
On the way to the station I’ll pass two shops which are always deserted. One is a very large Carpet Right store occupying a prime corner location at the cross roads where the High Street meets Broad St. It seems cavernous and its impressive array of fluorescents cast brilliant light on just how much carpet stock the place contains and how few people are inside – usually just the one or two bored and lonely sales guys. It’s hard to believe that a vast emporium selling pretty expensive carpets is a great model for business success given that many people prefer to lay hard-wearing and comparatively inexpensive wooden flooring these days. How does the business keep going?
Another fairly big store just off the High Street sells a huge range of mobility products – wheelchairs, stair-lifts, motorised vehicles etc. It’s great to know that the community is well-served by such a range of services and products but again I’ve never seen anyone in the place bar the poor sales person no doubt praying for the occasional leg-breaks or rash of diminished motor functionality amongst the more elderly citizens of Tedders. How many stair lifts are they likely to sell a week I wonder? It’s not like your regular purchase is it?
But my particular favourite amongst the deathly quiet shops is a little old furniture and bric-a-brac shop called Candlelight on the way up to C’s college in Strawberry Hill. Here’s a shot of the place I took from the car the other day:
Now, there are 3 notable features about the shop:
– although this hasn’t come out too clearly in the picture, the shop promotes itself by having a little light shining in the window from morning till closing time every day it’s open. It’s like a little beacon calling customers to the place, however
– no-one ever seems to go in the place (yet again) at least not the times I’m passing by – which tends to be in the morning, mid-dayish and in the evening. I’m sure the place is a riot of activity between 2.30 3-15pm. I’d believe it except that
– again it’s not clear from the picture but inside the shop is the lady owner who stares out challengingly from the depths with this slightly crazed and desperate look on her face. Like a shop-keeper who hasn’t had a caller in months and months.
I noticed the place not long after we moved here when I was thinking about buying up some old teable and chairs furniture for our dining area. This was before it hit me that I could get everything sorted in one day from IKEA rather than weeks of mooching around tiny antique shops. Anyway I popped in to Candlelight and was immediately set upon by the the little old lady. Not aggressively you understand, just in animated conversation. I think I must have been her first browser in a longggg time because within minutes I knew about her politics, her views on the local student population (she wasn’t a fan), the local council, local residents and the shambles of a workforce who were demolishing the old pub across the road. It was a little uncomfortable to be honest not least because she was slightly boss-eyed and I always seem to make contact with the lazy eye and feel obliged to stay with it rather than risk causing any embarrassment. I would have bought something just to get her till rolling but there was nothing I really fancied or wanted to spend money on. I listened intently for a little while and said I might be back with my wife to check out a couple of chairs that I quite liked. Little white one.
Of course I never went back with or without C. Everyday I pop by and see her pale face staring out intently I now imagine she’s remembered my face and is at a loss to understand why I never stop by as I sort of promised. I wonder if I’m not the one who is driving her crazy and she only keeps the place open now to see if we do want those 3 bentwood dining chairs. Oh lawd I can see myself popping in now just to make amends and engaging in another awkward conversation before buying something for a fiver. If I don’t though I sense another little place will close and our neighbourhood will be a touch poorer for its absence. I wonder If C will come in with me…?