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.

Advertisements

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.

“And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)”

Well, 2016 is already turning out to be a pretty action packed year, full of surprises and with some rather exciting things in store for the CAMhub.  Although we’ve not been able to see much of it, I think the beautiful sunshine we’ve finally had this week has reinvigorated us.

March was a tough month to get through for me – after limping along for a while, I had a day when I realised that I hadn’t cuddled my 3-month old baby all day and it suddenly hit me that my work/life balance was totally wrong.  I genuinely spent more time thinking about the shop than I thought about my children and this realisation made me really sad.  So I spent all of March in bed with my baby watching all 8 seasons of Dexter (I did still do plenty of work stuff – but just the sort of things you can do on the laptop in bed).  For a while I feared I was suffering from post-natal depression, but in hindsight, as I hadn’t really taken a breath since Sidney was born, I think it was just plain old exhaustion.

So, I gave myself a one month time limit to get back on track and it worked – once I’d got to the end of season 8, I was able to get out of bed and feel positive and excited about the shop again.  To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, un-slumping yourself is not easily done, but I got through it with the help of my baby and a loveable serial killer.

The funny thing about life is that just as you think things are on a level and you’ve got everything sorted, something else is thrown into your path to create further obstacles, which equals more work.  More work requires more time which is something that even the greatest artists and craftspeople can’t create.  Sometimes I wonder if there will ever be a time when we can properly relax and have a bit more time to enjoy life rather than just working all the time.

Over the past 18 months we have dedicated our time to promoting the shop and its individual traders and we have kept true to our original ethos – to provide a platform for artists and craftspeople to sell their work and to make good money.  Since I used my experience from selling my own work in other shops and at markets, my goal has always been to work out a better way for everyone involved to make money.  Being a self-employed artist is not an easy life, but I always knew that a shop like ours had the potential to work well for the people who understood our vision…and it’s a nice feeling to be right about things.

June will see some very exciting changes to the CAMhub, which will include a massive revamp of our Baby & Child section.  Along with our wonderful handmade baby clothes sellers, Clothlogy and Belle Amelie, we’ll be expanding our current ranges to bring you a world of gorgeous delights for little people.  And we’ll continue to dedicate our time to sourcing a great range of giftware and everyday items for all ages. The CAMhub will always be a one-stop shop for all your vintage, art, giftware and baby needs and we’d just like to thank each and every one of our loyal customers – if you thought the shop was good before, it’s about to get a whole lot better.

Loving my Nemesis

”Hello, my name is Alice and I hate Facebook and Twitter and all that social media stuff”.

Up until very recently, this was how I usually introduced myself to new people.  Or at least within the first five minutes  I would find a way to mention my dislike for all things social media.  I only reluctantly joined Facebook 3 years ago when I became self employed and I always saw it as a bit of an addictive annoyance. Sometimes I had to just ignore it completely for weeks on end just to maintain my sanity.  Twitter and Instagram followed soon after and suddenly I was part of a world that I had blissfully resisted for years.

I could go on about the things that annoy me about social media, but I won’t.  I have done that enough.  And anyway, I think I’ve had a bit of an awakening.

I know its obvious to anyone who doesn’t class themselves as a wannabe Luddite, but its taken me all this time to properly realise that social media is not the enemy, and can if fact be a very useful, if not essential, advertising tool.

This realisation had already started to reveal itself when I was pointed in the direction of a great little blog which gave me much clarity on the whole subject.  It relates brilliantly to our shop and it gave me the drive to keep pushing on with maintaining our social media for the CAMhub.  http://www.onmysideoftheroom.com/getting-started/how-to-support-small-businesses-without-buying-a-thing/

So, I am pleased to say that there will now be a much more consistent social media presence, especially as we are now clearly seeing the effect it is having (barely a day goes by without a customer telling us they have seen an item on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram when buying it).  We see doing it now simply as part of our normal daily routine, rather than a bothersome chore.  And really, since I am getting to take photos of beautiful things and share them with people, it’s really not much of a hardship after all.  Definitely better than gutting fish, as my old college tutor used to say.

Two bits of exciting news – now that I am a fully paid up member of the techie revolution, I am now proud to announce that we have a shiny new website.  Thanks to the computer wizardry of Mark Wallis Design for giving up so much of his time to create this thing of beauty.  We’ll keep it updated with new photos so keep checking back – http://www.chorltonartmarket.com.

Also, from next week I’ll be handing this blog over to the CAMhub traders so they can tell you about themselves and their work.  Keep an eye out each week to find out what inspires and motivates our artists and vintage traders, and what pitfalls they have come across and the lessons they have learned.  We’ve got such a fantastic variety of collections in the shop so it’s going to be really fun to learn more about it all.

 

 

 

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!

shop sign shop sign2vintagenetty tipsysally

oddwareour kid2

bahari3 bees

bear printlisa martell

The First Market of 2014

Finally, doing this market thing is beginning to become an enjoyable experience, rather than a super stressful one!

The end of February saw the Chorlton Art Market in its new home at The Post Box Cafe.  Having the market here, rather than in its old home in the precinct, presented me with far fewer challenges than I had for the previous markets.  This made the organising of everything so much easier and has given me a new wave of positivity.  And even I felt that the market went pretty well so it must of not been too bad.  You can read Ghostly Tom’s great blog about the actual day here:  http://t.co/QpteEviiri.  Thanks very much for doing that Tom!

It is a shame that things didn’t end up working out with the precinct plan because it is something I had dreamt about doing for many years.  Some may call me odd (and that they do!), but I felt very passionatly about making the ‘ugly’ precinct beautiful and I’m sad that I won’t be getting to fulfil my vision.  Rumour has it that the precinct is actually being sold for redevelopment after all, so it seems the game is up.  I just wish I started doing all this a few years ago.  But doing all this has ignited my interest in retail and town centre development so there is a positive side to it all (although certain things worry me greatly, but I’ll save all that for another time!)

An issue that has been making me think, plan and work extra hard over the last couple of months has been thus: what to do with the remainder of the Kickstarter money?  My original plan is now defunct.  There is obviously no point in creating loads of murals in the precinct if the place is going to be torn down.  I am annoyed because I was assured by the estate managers of the precinct that there were no plans for the development to be sold off, and they have not directly informed me that this is no longer the case.  I have a duty to uphold my Kickstarter pledge and it worried me that I now had to change the plans…but, I worry no longer for I have come up with a very exciting plan.  All will be revealed over the next couple of months.  I feel very confident that people will love this idea and I believe it will have a really positive impact on Chorlton.

Anyway, I’ll sign off with a little plug for the next Chorlton Art Market which takes place on Saturday 29th March – a ‘Baby, Child & Family’ special.  We have got so many exciting stall holders lined up with a great range of artwork and handmade products.  Please take a look at our Facebook page to see photos and links to all the members of the market family: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Chorlton-Art-Market/1423861817836800