When we’re opening our presents on a family Zoom call come Christmas Day, or the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, what will we be thinking (aside from hope the minutes don’t run out now)? It doesn’t take an astrologer to predict that most of us will be deleting this year from our hard drives, looking forward to a vaccine. Among the wrapping paper and resolution lists, the festive season is always a time of hope – a treasure more precious now than ever.
Yet, like a ruby in the dust, finding positivity in despair has been one of the surprise gifts of 2020– and one that Sherborne’s independent retailers have readily received. Despite forced temporary closures and enforced rethinks, Jane Wood, Director of Oliver’s Coffee House and Chair of the Sherborne Chamber of Commerce, isn’t aware of anyone going bust (although many are worried about rental prices). They’ve survived thus far, not only because of government grants, but because they’ve pivoted and worked together. In fact, a recent survey by the Local Data Company (LDC) found that small shops had been better at surviving the pandemic – the number that closed totalled less than a third of the number of all chain stores lost.
This doesn’t mean it hasn’t been tough though. “Everything happened so fast, “continues Jane, remembering when the first lockdown was announced. “Loads of us went to the pub the night it was forced to close! A lot of tears were shed.”
And yet, quite quickly, Sherborne’s small businesses adapted. Local growers, BlackShed Flowers initially faced a year of 60 postponed weddings, but saw mail orders flourish as people sent thoughtful bunches to each other. The Circus Boutique, which sells candles to cashmere, used Instagram as a way to take orders from 2000+ followers.
Jane says it’s important that people back their independent shops because “they’re the ones who organise everything in town, from markets to Festive Shopping days. They’re the ones who formed the Sherborne Viral Kindness Initiative and The Community Kitchen [during lockdown] to act as a lifeline for vulnerable people. Without us a huge part of the community would collapse.”
It’s not surprising then that this crisis illuminated how much Sherborne’s Indies are appreciated. Sue Macey, from Dorset-based independent estate agent, Lodestone Property agrees. “So many of our clients are keen to support their small shops – it’s very attractive to potential buyers to live within a thriving community. What’s also been so noticeable is that village stores, have become both a central hub and part of the local task force helping those residents who are shielding.”
So, as lockdown 2.0 slowed the start to the pre-Christmas selling period, normally the busiest retail time of the year, we thought we’d shine some fairylights on six of Sherborne’s small retailers, to give you a taste of how, why and where to spend.
This beautifully presented shop is run by photographer and publisher Jay Armstrong who describes the stock as “a wonderful selection of books, fine art prints, ceramics and gorgeous paper products.” Despite cancelling a summer of courses and events, she continued to sell Elementum’s eponymous nature writing journal online. Jay has since introduced a click and collect service, remote shopping via Zoom and popular Facebook group – Elementum Gallery Sale. Elementum’s seasonal recommendations include beautiful Cambridge Imprint origami kits and brand new limited edition prints by artists like renowned Dorset artist, Nicholas Hely Hutchinson.
Market Town Garden
As a food retailer, this energetic little grocer’s kept their shop open and ran their market stall on Thursdays and Saturdays, all the way through this year. During lockdown they offered delivery and click and collect services and linked with other traders like Parsons the Butchers to offer a joint delivery service. Order your Christmas veg from them.
The Circus Boutique
Former Interior Designer Sam Bourne, now a 6th generation Sherborne shop owner, describes her colourful, eclectic store as a “lifestyle boutique” – stocking furniture, fashion, homewares, and gifts. “I like it to be cheerful and interesting” she says. Her customers used Facebook and Instagram to order from her during lockdown, but she missed her customers, explaining it was “a massive void without them.” This Christmas, her favourite picks in store include Charlie Dodge jewellery, treats from The Chocolate Society (made locally) and Panetone by Scillian company, Ortigia.
Three and a half years ago, Paul and Helen Stickland and their daughter Tabitha started a flower farm in a bare field – but have been incredibly busy ever since. “We hit the market just at the time that people want locally sourced flowers.” Explains Paul. This Christmas they’re selling trees, wreaths and garlands.
The Truckle Truck
Cheese from a Vintage Citroen van? Yes please. Owner Carolyn describes her business as “a travelling cheeseshop”. After events and markets were cancelled this year, she started a delivery service and drops off in Sherborne on Wednesdays. This Christmas she’s specialising in cheese gifts.
The Pear Tree Deli
For nearly 25 years, this artisan outlet has been serving Sherborne with local deliciousness – Dorset cheese, chocolate, pate and wines are particularly popular. They continue trading during lockdown, starting a home delivery service which is still running and which included doorstep cream tea delivery. They also donated food to the Sherborne Viral Kindness campaign. This Christmas they have lots of festive foods like cooked meats, pies and a hamper service.
To find out more about buying or selling your home in the Sherborne area, contact our Dorset office
This feature first appeared in The Sherborne Times, December 2020
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