My ode to Stretford Mall

When I had my first baby in 2011, I suddenly found myself with more free time than I’d had for years.  I used this newly acquired time to explore places in Manchester that I had never been to – despite being utterly broke, my mini adventures with my little mute friend were truly happy days.

One of my favourite places to go to back then, when I wanted a change from Chorlton, was to Stretford Mall.  I can hear you laughing, but as someone who can’t really handle the madness of the Trafford Centre (even the Arndale Centre in town is a bit too much for me at times), Stretford offered a more relaxed shopping experience with pretty much all of the shops I regularly needed.  I went there for shops which didn’t have branches in Chorlton, such as Wilkos, Argos and New Look, as well as the excellent discounted bookshop where I bought some of my daughter’s most treasured books, and the discounted branded clothes shop where I got most of my partner’s birthday and Christmas presents.

All these shops, and more, have gone from Stretford Mall in the last 5 years.  I never visited the centre during its hay day and I know that the Mall was waaaay past its best in 2011, but to me it’s recent decline seems so rapid – every time I visit I notice another yet store has gone.  It is one of the starkest examples of what is happening to retail centres up and down the country as shopping habits change and the government continues failing to act on the impact this is having on communities.

It’s hard to believe that when it opened in 1969, Stretford Mall was one of the biggest shopping centres in Britain. This article offers some great history of Stretford Mall, or Stretford Arndale as it was originally called – it’s a great piece, just ignore the bit about Chorlton Precinct – it was written before the CAMhub opened!http://confidentials.com/manchester/stretford-mall-a-portrait-of-a-dying-shopping-centre

I know that the Mall won’t be holding any ‘flower shows, Miss Stretford Pagents and tea dances’ again, but it would be nice to live in a time where all the shop units in Stretford Mall (on both levels!), and all the retail centres like it, were filled and thriving.  It frustrates me greatly that thousands of shop units lie empty because of high rent and rates which make it near-impossible to run a long term sustainable business, especially if you are an indy start up.  It just feels like a wasted opportunity for so many people.

My fear is I believe that by the time my daughter is a teenager, independent businesses on the High Street will be a thing of the past.  But now I am also beginning to wonder if places like Stretford Mall will still exist then as well.  Where will the elderly or disabled people, or the tired new mums go when they can’t face going into town? Where will the ‘community hub’ be then?

Chorlton is not immune to the issues which are affecting Stretford Mall, its just that it has a better reputation therefore people are more willing and eager to set up a business here.  But it is not easy for anyone – things need to change in order for people to be able to run sustainable long term businesses in suburbs and small towns for the health of both the economy and the community.  It should not be as hard as it is to make a small business work on the High Street in any area.   Last year an average of 15 shops a day closed down in the UK, and the number of new openings fell to the lowest level in 5 years, leaving 10% of retail units lying empty.  Analysts predict this situation to worsen over coming years, with the uncertain Brexit effect not helping matters.

I hope that Stretford Mall finds a way to revive itself, just as I hope that when Chorlton precinct is eventually redeveloped it will still be a home to independent businesses.  And I hope that one day the government finally realises that it needs to address the unmanageable business rates issue and make serious changes for the health of the British High Street – and I don’t mean just doing publicity stunts with Mary Portas.

Hopefully one day all towns and cities will be offering opportunities to encourage both shoppers and new traders and the trend of High Street businesses closing down will reverse.  But, given the speed in which the decline has happened, particularly in the last 5 years, things need to happen soon to save the essence -or ‘soul’ – of the UK’s town centres.  The sad fact is that I fear things won’t change and the decline will continue.  I have no idea how long Stretford Mall, and places like it, will last but I’m quite certain things will be very different by the time my daughter is grown up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CAM TRADER CALL!

After a bumper Christmas, we are pleased to say that we are now finally starting to take on new traders for the CAMhub.  Apologies to those people who have been waiting a long time for a response from us regarding this issue.  We are going back through all trader enquiries from over the last 3 months and will be responding to everyone over the next couple of weeks.  Please feel free to email us again even if you have already done so before.

If you are interested in becoming a trader in the CAMhub, please carefully read the T&Cs detailed below.  To receive an application form, please email chorltonartmarket@gmail.com, with the subject title TRADER APPLICATION.  The closing date for all applications is Wed 1st Feb.

 

CAM Hub Terms & Conditions – Jan 2017

1 – Rental fee is £65 p/month.  This includes a 6x2ft gridwall or shelf spaces, plus additional space for greetings cards.  There is a 17% commission fee on all items sold.

2 – Traders must sign up for an initial 6 month period, with the first month free of charge.  This contact has the option to be extended for a further 6 month period, if agreed by both parties.

3 – Rent must be paid on the 1st of each month by standing order.  A £10 penalty fee will be incurred if payment is more than 3 days late.

4 – By the 3rd of each month you will receive an email with your previous month’s takings, plus a breakdown of items sold. All takings will be paid by the 7th of each month.

5 – Ensure that your spaces are fully stocked at all times – you must come into the shop at least twice a month to restock and remerchandise.

6 – Ensure that all your stock is clearly price labelled, including your trader code on the back of each label.

7 – We ask all traders to publicise and promote the shop, preferably through some form of social media.   Please post your own photos and like and share other trader’s photos.  We are currently on Facebook, Instagram (Chorlton Art Market) and Twitter (@popupshopsuk).

8 – To retain exclusivity of products and to maximise your sales potential, we ask that CAM traders do not have the same products stocked elsewhere in Chorlton.

9 – We are continually on high alert for shop lifters, but we cannot be held accountable for any items stolen from the shop.

10 – Failure to adhere to these terms may result in your contract being terminated.

 

Supporting Independent Businesses is for Life, not just for Small Business Saturday.

Today was Small Business Saturday and, despite us being a small business, we did nothing to promote this new High Street ‘tradition’.

The concept of Small Business Saturday was introduced to the UK from the USA, with the first event taking place in December 2013.  This was the year that I started the Chorlton Art Market and so I was involved with helping to promote the concept of encouraging people to shop at independent business for this one day.  This slightly patronising idea about shopping at ‘small businesses’ for one day out of 365 is my first issue with the idea of Small Business Saturday.

My second problem with SBS is the fact that it is actually a PR exercise by American Express, cleverly disguised as a social enterprise movement.  Since the age of 13 I have worked in various roles within independent business and I can’t recall any of those places accepting American Express payments due to higher processing fees than other cards.  We do not accept American Express at CAM for this reason.

I am not entirely convinced that Small Business Saturday does actually make people any more likely to shop at independent businesses than they would do usually.  I may well be wrong, but I quite simply haven’t had the time or the inclination to do any kind of promotion for it this year.

Promotion that does work well for a business like ours is, of course, consistent and regular social media updates and information.  Unfortunately at the minute our social media presence is pretty much dormant.  Due to a few unexpected events over the last couple of months, we have been preoccupied with other issues which has left the social media stuff being side-lined at a time of year when we should really be pumping up the volume.

BUT!…Even if we haven’t posted a slightly filtered photo on Instagram, or shared a tweet for a couple of weeks this doesn’t mean that the CAMhub isn’t as completely awesome as always – it simply means that we are crazy busy and trying to prioritise!  Making the shop work economically and ensuring that our artists are making good money, serving our customers 6 days a week and simply doing all the paperwork is not an easy task (as well as maintaining the basic requirements of 2 small humans) so please be understanding if it seems that our social media-ness is a bit quiet.

Right now the shop is absolutely jam-packed with an eclectic hoard of carefully selected giftware for all ages, along with the work of our amazing artists.  And if this wasn’t enough for you, Autumn’s Vintage Boutique is looking better than it ever has done, thanks to the hard work of our wonderful vintage ladies.  As a special treat for our customers, the vintage traders have come together to organise a special shopping day, taking place on Sunday 4th December – more info here:  https://www.facebook.com/events/365475820457367/

So come down, get yourself styled to vintage perfection and get all your Christmas shopping done under one roof with a glass of Jay’s famous mulled wine in your hand.  You can always support a small business, even if it isn’t Small Business Saturday!

 

 

 

Shoplifting Woes and My Deepest, Darkest Secret.

Unlike a lot of teenagers, I didn’t go through the ‘shoplifting phase’ that a lot of them go through.  There is a reason for this which I will now share, although it is my absolute deepest and darkest confession and one which I have only ever told a few people in my life.

I can’t quite remember how old I was, but I know I was young – maybe five or six, when I did The Bad Steal.  My family and I were shopping in Derby and I was loaded up with riches in the form of a £5 BHS voucher.  At that age, most children’s grasp on the value of money is fairly unrealistic so I imagine I had a whole shopping basket of goodies planned.

After a look around I found the thing I wanted – a pale pink spotty pencil case which had a big bow on the corner.  It was £4.99.  Perfect.

But then I spotted a matching pale pink spotty fountain pen which was £2.99.  I asked my older brother if my voucher was enough to buy the pencil case and the pen.  He said no and told me that I would have to choose between the two things.

I wanted the pencil case and the pen.  But my voucher wouldn’t cover both of them.  So what do you think a sweet, innocent and very young child did next?   I genuinely shudder when I think of the deviousness of my next move:  I put the pale pink spotty fountain pen inside the pale pink spotty pencil case with a bow on the corner.  And I went to the till with my £5 voucher, heart pounding.  I was almost certain that if I got found out then I would go Straight to Jail so I knew full well that what I was doing was very wrong – but that still didn’t make me back out.

When I got to the till, the lady smiled, cooed at how cute I was and scanned the pencil case.  I handed over my voucher and it was all over.  She didn’t realise that there was a terrible secret stashed inside that pencil case.

Having the pale pink spotty pencil case and the matching fountain pen did not bring me happiness.  Every time I looked at it, I was reminded of what I had done, which I guess was probably the first intentionally Bad Thing I had ever done.  The guilt gnawed away at me for a couple of years, until I rather theatrically buried both the pencil case and the pen into a bonfire that my Dad had built and watched my secret burn away.

So this is why, a decade later, I didn’t go through the shoplifting phase that a lot of my friends went through.  I think the guilt would have killed me. 

I’m telling you this because I think all this is what makes it difficult for me to understand shoplifters.  As a small business owner with a large shop, it is an issue that is almost impossible to battle with.  It makes it harder to cope with all the many other day-to-day issues of running a shop when you have to be on high alert and suspicious of everyone all the time

I always try to understand people’s actions but I do admit that I struggle to comprehend how people’s consciences can allow them to just take whatever they want from whoever they want.  I can just about understand why teenagers do it – testing boundaries/rebelling and all that, but I can’t understand how people can reach adulthood without a moral compass which stops them from stealing.  Of course it would be very naïve to not expect to have issues with shoplifters when you have a shop filled with beautiful things, but the stress of it all is a killer.  Quite simply, I never imagined that the problem would be as bad as it is. 

I’m glad that my crime spree ended before I had lost all my baby teeth, but I do wish that I understood a little better why people can see a shop like ours and decide to steal from us.  I often wonder if they even consider how the consequences of their actions are affecting us, and what it will mean for our business and our lives.

Anyway, despite feeling completely disheartened about everything right now, I’m glad I have confessed my Deepest Darkest Secret to the world! 

Why I’m supporting Jeremy Corbyn – Part 1

OK – I’ll admit it…I once voted Liberal Democrats.  In my defence, I was young and someone told me that the Lib Dems were going to legalise weed if they got into government (this was my first and foremost political concern at the time).  I quickly realised the error of my ways.

I was brought up in a Tory-tastic, Daily Mail reading environment.  I can remember the 1992 election very clearly, and my Dad using the fridge magnets to spell out ‘JM IS PM’ on the dinner table when my mum got home from work.  I couldn’t understand why they were so happy that the grey puppet from Spitting Image was the Prime Minister.  And, as a kid, I once saw Edwina Currie in Belper Safeway carpark getting the trolley lad to load her shopping into her car, which made me think that all Tory MPs were dicks.

Secondary school history lessons were my first introduction to a slightly wider world of politics.  Despite hating my history teacher at school (it was definitely a mutual thing), I always enjoyed learning the subject.  And despite that teacher telling me that I would most likely end up as a drug addicted prostitute (a man who really knew how to inspire his pupils), I managed to scrape together a B grade at GCSE and retain a love for looking into past events and seeing how society had evolved.  I remember so clearly learning about poor houses, debtor’s prisons and huge social divides, and all the while believing completely that these issues were in the past.  My youth and blinkered life gave me a strong faith in humanity and the belief that All the World’s Issues were now sorted because everyone had learnt lessons from The Past.  And of course, only fools would repeat the same mistakes that lead to poor houses, debtor’s prisons and widening social divides, right?

Up until the 2010 election Labour had been in power all my adult life.  And up until my Lib Dem wobble, I have always voted Labour – maybe initially to rebel against my Tory upbringing, or maybe because Tony Blair had a good PR team (‘he parties with Noel Gallagher! He must be cool’).  But during these years I never really felt a connection with any politician – they all seemed a world away from my own reality and, for me politics always seemed like a strange archaic performance.  Surely these posh shouty people aren’t the ones in charge of the country?!  The way I saw it as a young teenager, the way that politicians behaved would have resulted in a month of detention.  My view on this has remained.  I find PMQs and parliamentary debates utterly cringeworthy to watch.  In what other profession is jeering at and openly mocking your peers an acceptable practice?

I hate the fact that it feels so clearly that history is on a repeating loop.  Many of us feel it and can see the social injustices going on right in front of us.  I’m cautious of sounding like a stereotype, but for the last few weeks I have often wondered if we are heading towards some kind of revolution.  As ever more underhand moves are played out, the numbers of the disillusioned hopefuls grow and we are desperately looking to someone who we can believe in.

This post initially set out to explain why I am supporting Jeremy Corbyn, but instead I have explained some of my life experiences and feelings which have lead me to believe in the things I believe in.  I’ll do a Part 2 on this subject, but right now I urge people to register to vote in the Labour leadership election (see link below – you have until 5pm today!).  The £25 issue is beyond shocking and I know this will put a lot of people off, but if you do believe in Jeremy Corbyn then please show your support.  We all need to show our commitment to helping to create a fairer society – all the old ways (Tory, ‘New Labour’, Lib-Con Coalition etc) haven’t worked so please help by being a part of a new approach to the issues which affect us all.       

https://donate.labour.org.uk/leadership/1?utm_source=sourceA&utm_medium=mediumA&utm_content=contentG&utm_campaign=campaignA

Why Brexit made me cry

I am not ashamed to say that I cried every evening for a week after the EU referendum.  In an attempt to avoid thinking about it for as long as possible, every evening I would prolong my children’s bedtime routine, read them an extra story and hug them for a little longer than usual.  But as soon as I sat down, there ‘it’ was – on the news and across social media and it felt impossible to escape from the confusion and chaos.

As the days rolled on, I found it harder – not easier – to digest.  I felt a weird sickness all the time and the moments I spent not thinking about it were fewer than the hours spent talking and worrying about it.  It got to the point, maybe 3 or 4 days after the result, whereby I was genuinely afraid of what each new day would bring.  Watching the news scared me.  With monumental events occurring so quickly and in such an unprecedented manner, it made it difficult to keep up and take stock of what exactly was going on.   Political analysts struggled to make sense of it all so there was no hope for me.

So, why did I cry every night for a week?  Was it simply because I was a sore loser?  Was it because I don’t like it when I don’t get my own way?  Or was it because I am a ‘lefty liberal’?  (just a few of the common jibes from some of those who voted Leave).  Maybe there is a smidge of truth in the first one, simply because I didn’t believe in a million years that we would have a Leave majority.  And of course, because of my lifestyle and social beliefs, I would be described by some as a ‘lefty liberal’.  But this is far preferable to the alternative term of ‘right-wing loon’.

The reasons I cried (and still cry now) are many.  I cried initially from the shock and the worry of the complete unknown, and then for the immediate spike in racists jumping out of their racist little closets, believing they were suddenly legitimised to spew out all their sick predicable bile at anyone who spoke a different language or had a different skin tone.  I cried for many personal reasons; our dreams of moving abroad in the future seemed suddenly less achievable, and the knowledge that our children wouldn’t be able to rock up in Amsterdam with 50 euros and get a job a few hours later, or pick strawberries in Denmark or have any of the other amazing experiences that I was able to have across Europe with ease.  The breadth of their futures were limited overnight.

As the news did begin to sink in, I also began to realise the potential effect it could have on our business – a business still in its start-up years and a business that would suffer greatly if we were dealt with another recession.  It felt like all our years of hard work could slip away from us because of something completely out of our control.

Overall, the thing that I feel saddest about is the fact that I now truly feel that I have nothing in common with a huge proportion of the British population, and the fact that things just feel different now.  I do believe that a large number of Leave voters did so based on issues surrounding immigration – some deny it, yet some wear it as a badge of pride.  From my exchanges with Leave voters, it seems that they do indeed blame immigrants for everything from housing issues, GP waiting times and school places.  But instead of directing their anger at the real people responsible – the government, they read their inflammatory News Corp headlines and tell Polish families to ‘go home’.  Instead of the culturally diverse and accepting society that we currently have, these people want the complete opposite. 

For me, the shock and grief has finally given way to a more productive anger.  Although my initial feelings were that I just wanted to run away and live in a forest, right now reality prevents this so we’ve got to battle on.  And besides, I never like to give up on things.  Admittedly I have limited my social media and news intake over the last week which has helped me to focus more on my business and worry slightly less about things that I really can’t control.  The more I know, then the angrier I feel about it all so I needed to take a step back.

Amidst all the chaos, a great many of us looked for a leader that we could believe in – something to cling on to when it felt like everything that was happening was just a frat boy game to many of our politicians.  I can’t even bring myself to write a blog about how angry I am at Cameron (a man who put his penis in a dead pig’s mouth – please never forget this), Osborne, Farage, Johnson and many others, so instead my next blog will be about the person whom I have chosen to put my faith in – the first politician I have ever truly believed in.  During these past couple of weeks, this politician has given me the only glimmer of hope and sanity in this sea of madness so I will be happy to explain my reasons for why I will be standing firm for Jeremy Corbyn. 

“You feel that? The way the shit just sticks to the air? There’s a shit-blizzard comin, I always know”.

This blog has nothing to do with the shop directly, but I need to spew out some thoughts and feelings about the utter shitstorm we have found ourselves in and then maybe I might feel a tiny bit better about things.

 

I am not a support worker, I am not a counsellor, I am not a doctor or a teacher.  I own a shop.  So why, in the last 3 days on 2 separate occasions, have I had two young women with mild learning difficulties crying on my shoulder?

I will tell you exactly why these women were crying – because on Friday we all awoke to a climate which has given a green light to racists, making them think that they are now free to say whatever they want to anyone.  These women were crying because someone had said ‘Go home Paki’ to them.  For one of the girls it was the first time in her life that she had ever experienced this.  She told me that she is now scared to leave her house.

Of course I know that not everyone who voted Leave is a racist, but this won’t matter to the far right, who now think they have over 17 million kindred spirits.  They are now feeling empowered.  And somehow we have reached a point whereby when someone brings up the subject of racism/xenophobia within the Leave campaign, they are shot down with gurning cries of ‘Sore loser! Lefty Liberals! Get over it and move on!’ (more on this matter further down).  Again, if anyone tries to point out that all the major university cities (London, Oxford, Edinburgh, Manchester etc) had a Remain majority, and that people with degree level education voted mainly Remain, they are accused of classism and snobbery – after all, ‘people are sick of experts’ aren’t they Gove? 

It is hard to be heard in a sea of crappy, hastily cobbled together memes.  It is frustrating when you know that the majority of the 17 million have had their views moulded, and thus ultimately legitimised by the newspaper that they have read all their life.  The majority of these people are under the spell of a man who offers them lies and tells them what to think.  This man has the power to tell his people to vote Blair…so they vote Blair.  And when he decides that Cameron is his new bitch, he tells his subjects to vote Cameron…and they do.  I can’t even write his name because I despise him so much but we all know who I mean.  But people chose to read and act upon his inflammatory headlines and ignore those pesky scaremongering experts.  As patronising as I know it sounds, I truly feel for these people as we all know that they will be the ones who will feel the reverberations from this the strongest.  And it won’t be pretty.  ‘Turkeys voting for Christmas’, ‘Lambs to the slaughter’ – however you want to put it, these people, on the whole, have been blinded and tricked by a whole world of lies.

So now what?  There are so many aspects of this sorry mess which have, over the last 3 days, fuelled our shock, our grief, and now our anger.  The lightening-quick rise of open right wing attitudes is just one factor of many.  And what do we do next?  Continue to repost the aforementioned memes on social media and cry when we watch the news? This is why I feel so angry when people (both Remain and Leave supporters) tell people to just move on and get on with things as normal.  Although I do understand why they say this, how on earth is it possible?  How can any of us just carry on in the same way that we were doing this time last week?

I really could go on and on.  My mind is clouded with this.  There are just too many factors that scare the fuck out of me, and many more besides that I don’t even fully understand.  All I do know is that I am not the sort of person who will just lie down and accept things when my gut tells me that it is wrong.  And things feel very wrong right now.  To paraphrase the great Mr Leahy: “Great Britain, you just opened up Pandora’s shit-box”.