Despite high street chain stores such as Debenhams, Monsoon, M&Co and Marks & Spencer closing outlets and making huge redundancies, our local high streets are still thriving and may even be busier than before the coronavirus disease changed our lives.
Small independent traders in towns such as Okehampton, Ashburton and Bovey Tracey are seeing more customers coming through their doors, tourists and locals alike, and some shop owners have even taken the leap and opened new shops since lockdown was lifted.
A YouGov poll by trade body Co-operatives UK shows that 30% of consumers say they have used local retailers more since the coronavirus disease hit, and 80% of them intend to keep shopping locally in the future. In another study carried out by Deloitte Digital, 57% of consumers said they are more likely to spend money in shops that stock locally produced products than they would have done before lockdown was imposed.
Okehampton Town Councillor Jan Goffey said: “We are very lucky that Okehampton is full of independent shops; we have very few chains so the virus didn’t impact us here as badly.
‘We have a very supportive community and many independent shops, including the farm shops, instantly offered home delivery during lockdown and I hope that the local community remembers the help that was offered and continues to support their local independent businesses.”
While the national media would have us believe that the high street is dead on its feet, nothing could be further from the truth in Okehampton where two new businesses recently opened on the very same day and are right next door to each other in West Street.
Tim Petersen opened his new enterprise Cycle Works repairs and health café after uncertainty surrounded the future of his full time job with an engineering firm.
“I’ve been in the bike trade for most of my life,” said Tim. “Although more recently I’d been working with an engineering company I still found time to look after a lot of my old clients from former businesses and shops where I’d worked by offering them a mobile cycle repair service.
‘When I was furloughed by the engineering firm during lockdown I saw it as an opportunity and, with the upsurge in cycling, I thought I’d get back into bikes full time. My wife has always wanted a little café or coffee shop so we decided to combine the two ideas and open the shop.
‘The interest has been good since we opened two weeks ago; there’s been a little curiosity from the locals and good trade from several people doing the Land’s End to John O’Groats ride who have been passing through and needed some running repairs.”
The florist shop once known as ‘Alicia James’ has reopened as … a florist, named Heart of Flowers. The new owner is Lesley Cook who has been in floristry for over 30 years but has never had a high street presence until now.
“Before the COVID crisis I had a full order book with weddings planned for the summer but of course all that disappeared overnight, although some are now being rearranged. I had been toying with the idea of opening my own shop for some time to develop a wider client base and then this opportunity came up. It was too good to miss, being a former florist as well.”
Heart of Flowers is not all about flowers though; you will also find some fine examples of quality wood crafts by Lesley’s husband Mark.
The Dartmoor Shepherd has become a well-recognised name in and around Chagford since Lewis Steer and his girlfriend Flora Searson started farming their sheep in the parish. As well as lamb boxes, the couple also sell bespoke sheepskin items at fairs and exhibitions across the country.
Their new shop in Chagford has already proved to be a welcome edition to the town. Flora said: “We are absolutely thrilled to have opened our first ever shop in the centre of Chagford town square on Dartmoor. It feels very fitting that the shop is in Chagford as the majority of our flocks graze in the Parish. Although opening a shop wasn’t always part of our plan, when our shows and events that we retail at across the country were cancelled due to COVID-19 we were left feeling quite concerned about the future of our business.
‘So when we saw a suitable lease had come up, we seized the opportunity to open a shop. So far it has been a huge success and has been greatly received by locals and tourists. It’s wonderful to meet so many people from across the country who really engage with our locally made sheepskin products from our own flocks. People seem to have a genuine interest in our business and are consciously choosing to shop locally. I think lockdown has made people really appreciate their local shops more than ever and it also encouraged people to discover the wonderful products produced on their doorsteps.”