OPEN LETTER TO GMPF #1

This is an open letter to GMPF, our business landlord.  It is highly probable that it will be the first of many such letters over the next 18 months.

Dear GMPF,

Ten years ago this month I moved to Chorlton as a bit of a stop gap whilst I figured out what to do with my life.  And, as life has panned out in the unexpected way that it does, I never left and I am now happily settled, raising two children and running a successful business in this strange but loveable suburb.

A heatwave was just kicking in on the day I came here back in 2006 which made the whole exciting move even more full of promise.  We were in a whole new world of beer gardens, open mic nights and roof top BBQs!  I remember going off to explore my new surroundings and stumbling upon the precinct and wondering if I had stepped into a 70’s verion of the Twilight Zone.  And I don’t mean that as a negative – for me it felt special and was somewhere full of untapped potential.  I always knew that it would inevitably be updated at some point, but I could very clearly picture a way to do it and still retain some of its nostalgic charm.

In the time I have lived here, Chorlton precinct has had at least 3 owners to my knowledge.  And over the years, rumours of redevelopment have been ever present.  I remember public consultations and architectural plans aplenty, but then the recession hit and all these plans were, I guess, put on the back burner. 

For me, the timing was perfect.  In 2011 I had my first child which gave me the opportunity to see those shop units in the precinct sitting empty and I began to formulate a long term plan – I knew by then that I wanted a business in Chorlton precinct and I was going to find a way to make it happen, no matter what.

Fast forward to the present day and that goal has been achieved…for now.  I understood when I signed my lease that it expired in 2018 but I didn’t worry because I don’t think I fully appreciated the potential that my business had back then.  I guess I thought I’d be just content to have a shop for a few years and I didn’t really consider too far ahead.  But time is ticking fast and battle mode is setting in.

I now have 3 children – a girl one, a boy one and a shop one.  I unashamedly admit to loving the non-human one just as much as the human ones.  The roots of all 3 are connected to the precinct to some degree and I can’t accept that in less than 2 years it could all be over if all the spaces are allocated to large corporations.  We have all worked hard to create something special in a part of Chorlton which we truly love.  The Chorlton Art Market belongs in the precinct.

My fear is that the redevelopment will see the precinct turned into a soulless identikit plastic mall when I know that it has the potential to be something truly special and something which could be a real gem for Chorlton.  As anyone who has ever lived here will tell you, Chorlton is a beautifully weird place, filled with people with a great sense of social pride and I believe that you, the landlords, have an amazing opportunity to create something that will sit pride of place in your property portfolio.

When the time comes, please consider the fate of my family business – a business which supports over 60 other local people and a business which is loved by an ever-growing customer base.  In a place like Chorlton, with a bit of imagination something ‘different’ has the potential to thrive…but only if the opportunities are there. Please don’t forget about us when you make your plans.

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All together now: ‘Sometimes its hard to be a (business) woman…’

Don’t get me wrong – I love having a shop.  It is a dream come true.  Like most people, I played ‘shops’ as a child and now I get to do it for real every day.  So essentially my life is just one long play time.

Except sometimes, it isn’t quite like that.  Because the playtime never ends.  And in reality, constant ‘playtime’ is actually really hard work.  In some ways I can draw parallels with the Twilight Zone episode, A Nice Place to Visit, but I’m not repeatedly winning in a casino and I’m in Chorlton, not hell so it’s not quite the same (the CAMhub really is A Nice Place to Visit though).

As some will know, our shop is not like most shops.  The majority of our space is filled with the work and wares of over 60 local people and therefore provides income for individuals and families and helps to support the local economy in a very direct way.  It took a long time to become a reality – in some ways it has been brewing ever since I began organising charity events and cake sales when I was still a kid. All through my teens and twenties I slogged away in draughty village halls and fields doing craft fairs and summer fetes, and whilst I was at university in Preston I would sell my cards to a gift shop for a quid each (which was enough for 2 pints of Snakebite & Black on a Monday night in Squires so life was good).  This was before the days of social media so life really was a lot sweeter.  After a few years of pop up shops and markets and living a lifestyle way below the breadline, my shop dream somehow came true.

Anyway, my point is that the CAMhub did not spring up overnight.  It was not a drunken idea dreamt up in the pub with my mates and it is not a vanity project funded by rich husbands.  One of my main goals from the very beginning was to provide a platform for artists, craftspeople and small businesses to showcase their wares and build up their high street presence.  The ultimate goal was always for people to do well enough in our shop to go on to open their own shops, thus rejuvenating and improving the high street further.  I have always wanted the shop to help to improve the lives of like-minded people who have worked hard to build up their businesses, but I would have always expected honesty and openness from people who we work hard for.

We treat our traders very fairly and we know that our business plan focusses on ensuring that people who sell their wares with us make a good profit.  Our business model might be different from the norm, but it works well; being different is always better.  And it’s only going to continue to get better and better all the time.

Sometimes in business, as in everyday life, people do things which shock you.  Sometimes in life we all get treated in a manner which surprises us and makes you question the whole do-as-you-would-be-done-by philosophy.  Sometimes in life you just come across very selfish people and that’s just the way it is.  I have wanted to write this post for over a month now but I couldn’t find the words which weren’t swear ones.  Then I simply remembered the wise words from a dear old friend – he had a theory that when you want to be a better person when dealing with arseholes, you should think of John Cusack’s character in Stand by Me (the flashback scene where he gives his brother the baseball cap).  So, when I’m feeling pissed off about a situation, and when I would quite like to speak my mind, I tell myself: “Be more like dead Cusack”…and it always helps.

As ever we will continue to work hard to make the CAMhub the very best shop it can possibly be.  After a lot of hard work over the last few days, our Baby & Child section is better than it ever has been, with a much wider range of giftware and affordable high quality clothing than we have ever had.  We have listened to and acted on customer feedback from over the last 18 months and we are very proud to be bringing you our carefully selected collections of 100% cotton dresses and babygrows, as well as fairtrade wooden toys from Lanka Kade.  All this as well as our ever-evolving mixture of artwork, handmade crafts and vintage clothing.

So come and visit us tomorrow and see our beautiful shop for yourselves.  And I promise to continue to be more like dead Cusack.

Keep it Precinct this Christmas

This time last year I was in a wild panic.  I had spent weeks cleaning up a filthy shop unit, lined up dozens of artists and craftspeople to sell their work in the shop and advertised the opening of the Chorlton Art Market Hub for Saturday 1st November…but I hadn’t even actually signed the lease.  I didn’t even know for certain if I was going to get the shop at all and, as it turned out, I only managed to get everything sorted the day before we opened.  It was all pretty nail biting stuff.

When all this was happening, if someone had told me that the shop would still be open a whole year later I don’t think I could have believed it.  It was of course what I wanted to happen, but it seemed like such a hard to reach dream, especially after all the hurdles I had faced just to get to that point.

The initial plan was to open the shop for a couple of months, just to have a share of the Christmas madness.  I signed up local traders on a week-by-week basis, many of whom who had sold at my other CAM events and I trawled charity shops and skips for temporary shop fittings to display their work.  Other than a tiny bit of money I had saved from running the market for the 12 months prior to opening the shop, I had virtually no money so everything had to be done on the cheap – contrary to what some people thought, I received no grants or loans to get the shop running.

It has been a very eventful and interesting past 12 months, with the shop continuing to evolve every day.  Our goals have not changed since the initial concept – we still strive to promote and sell local people’s work and we are still very proud to be a permanent fixture in Chorlton precinct (it continues to amaze us when customers tell us that they never used to come into the precinct before we opened – something we still hear at least once a week).

As we approach our second Christmas season we hope that people will remember to Shop Local – by buying from local independent businesses you are putting that money directly back into the local economy.  There are dozens of other economic and environmental reasons to shopping local, especially during the busiest time of the year.  Nevermind Keeping it Chorlton – we say Keep it Precinct!  Get your veg from Elliotts, your meat from Frosts, your Boxing Day mint Vienetta from Cool Trader and all your gifts from the CAMhub.  Job done.

Jay and I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to all our wonderful traders, especially those of you who have been with us since we opened, and also huge thanks to every single one of our customers for supporting the shop – your positive comments and continued custom gives us the drive to overcome the difficult patches.  Please come and visit us this Saturday for a Bucks Fizz and raise a toast to our first year of being a real shop and get your Christmas shopping started!

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In the words of Tenacious D: ‘thats f***ing teamwork’

I considered beginning this post with a grandiose/pretentious quote, maybe something about overcoming obstacles and rising above the madness that life throws at us all. But I won’t, because that is not really what I want to write about.

Trying to do what I am doing has made me learn many things. Above all else I have finally accepted that, in my experience, I should always trust my gut instinct in every decision I ever make – when I look back upon my life, I realise that my gut instinct has always been right. Difficult times of late have made this very clear to me.

One of the other main things I have come to properly realise is the absolute crucial importance of operating as part of a team. Obviously this is something I already understand since everything in life is teamwork to some degree, and I have of course written the immortal: ‘I can work well on my own,as well as part of a team’ on many a job application. But in terms of setting up the Chorlton Art Market as my business, I was, until recently, under the impression that I could do it all on my own. Other than sleeping and sewing, doing things on your own is hard.

As I have alluded to, I took a bit of a knock in recent weeks with my dreams for the market. Against my better judgement, I put my trust in someone I shouldn’t of. And it made me sad. It also made me very cross. But it also led onto much greater things and reminded me how strongly I feel about my goals and plans.

The old cliche ‘everything happens for a reason’ is so true. This I have always known but sometimes it’s easy to forget. Without the rough times I’ve had with the Chorlton Art Market lately, I may not of taken up a great opportunity which lead to a truly awesome event on Sunday. Along with some other folks, (the Uprising Bakehouse Co-operative and Miss Daisy’s Tea Den) I helped to create a Harvest Fayre in our local park – pictures of the wonderful day can be viewed here: https://www.facebook.com/chorltonartmarket/photos_stream and at: https://twitter.com/ChorltonMarkets/media. The success of the event was down to lots of hard work all round, but it was so worth it and it was so lovely seeing some of the CAM artists again, as well as some new folks. I have never enjoyed an event that I was involved in so much – I didn’t want the day to end. Massive respect to the Uprising team for masterminding such an ace day for our town and I’m so glad we could be a part of it.

So, in summary, I’m glad that things have happened the way they have. Every knock I take makes me more determined to reach my goals. As Babe Ruth said: ‘no one can beat you if you never give up’.

We are now busily and excitedly working on plans for future CAM events so watch this space!</