An ex-boyfriend once called me relentless. He meant it in a meanie way, but I saw it as a strength. I do not give up on things that I believe in. Ever. (I did end up giving up on him though).
Ever since I quit my full time job in 2011 to have my daughter, I have worked hard to build a small something up from nothing. Back when I was pushing a pram around every day with no money to do anything, I had a lot of time to think…and a lot more time to really take in everything around me. This is when I truly realised how rapidly my town centre was changing, and not neccessarily in a positive way. The calalyst for me was the realisation that we were heading for a future where independent businesses would no longer feature on the high street at all.
I have accepted and I understand that, in business, money talks. But this really and truly can’t be the only factor accounted for when so much is at stake. Quite simply, vibrant town centres are vital to every community on so many levels. My previous carreer working as a mental health support worker allowed me to see how important a strong sense of community is to a huge proportion of the population, and for a lot of people, their community spirit lay in the local businesses around them.
Empty retail units are not good; they devalue surrounding businesses and homes, as well as having negative consequenses on the town as a whole. But filling them with unsuitable businesses, or by not considering diversity, is just not working for anyone. Humans are pack animals and we want familiarity and continuity…but this does not have to come from charity shops, chain stores and big brands. I believe there is another way to make things work.
There are two main enemies to small businesses is – one, of course, is a beast that cannot be beaten, but the other needs to be fought. Internet shopping is not going to go away (although I do believe that people are beginning to realise that it is not The Answer to All, as they perhaps once though it was.) The other demon are business rates – a system of calculation that was invented by 3 blind monkeys and a piece of cheese. The way that councils decide what extortionate fee they will charge you for trying to make a living was set up years before the internet was even A Thing – since those days, the way people shop and consume has changed dramatically, yet this fact has never been accounted for when it comes to calculating business rates. How can this make sense? It should not be as hard as it is for people to set up viable businesses withn their own town centre.
For the past 3 years I have been dreaming and now I am awake. I now have a shop which benefits a large number of people and it is a shop which has the potential to truly work long term. It is also a shop which local people express their appreciation for – just today we had a lady say that she had come over from a neighbouring suburb specifically to visit us, and another lady who said we had one of the best collections of vintage stock she had ever seen. Because of all the traders who have put their faith in this project by selling their work through us, the shop looks amazing and I am so proud of it every day. And because of this I vow to do everything I can to keep hold of it.
When the time comes, please can I ask everyone who trades at, or who supports, the CAM Hub & Autumn’s Vintage Boutique to sign our petition to help prove to the landlord that this the sort of shop that the people of Chorlton want, rather than yet another charity shop (charity shops get an 80% business rates relief, enabling them to be able to pay top whack for the rental rates – this is something that I just can’t compete with at this stage). So, please keep tweeting, facebooking, instagramming and telling everyone about the shop – this is a shop which makes money for 60 individuals and small businesses, and one which benefits the local economy in ways which yet another charity shop wouldn’t do. As wrong as it may sound, please help us to fight the evil plague of charity shops!