It is April 12th 2021. Our shop has just re-opened its doors for the third time.
And we hope, with everything crossed, that this is it and we can stay open. We can't really let this strangest of times go by without some comment. This time two years ago, no one would ever have imagined what was to come this past year. In businesses like this, passed down through the family, the greatest success seemed to be remaining in business, changing with the times. Our biggest challenge was the move to on-line shopping as a percentage of sales, so the building of an attractive website, mastering marketing through social media and Google became the big thing. But a challenge we took on with gusto! And thank goodness we did.....we could never have predicted how important our fledgling website was going to be.
Move on to January last year as murmurings of something called coronavirus was hitting China. We were a little more aware of it as Verity and Mike's son Chris was just coming to the end of a marvelous 6 month tour of the far east. He had messaged advice about getting a few cans in, maybe some toilet paper. We laughed!
As time moved on the 'flu like' virus became a little more worrying. We introduced a strict hand washing regime, searched for hand sanitizer for the shop, eventually found some, and started to eye everyone as a potential risk. It was not an easy time to be working in a city centre shop, but we agreed to soldier on for as long as we safely could. That proved to be the day before Mothering Sunday, when custom just dried up completely. Two days later we would have had no choice as all non essential shops were forced to close. Now I have always considered a pretty pair of earrings to be essential, but hey ho !
And then came the strangest couple of months. I need not tell you all how strange, we all went through it. Furloughed staff, nobody on the streets, nobody buying anything, many people baking, the rest of us looking for flour, or yeast, or tinned tomatoes, or, yes, toilet paper! If only we had listened to Chris ......
For about four weeks, very little sold off the website, as if we were all in a countrywide shock. No one was doing anything but trying to buy food safely, sitting eating home baked cakes and biscuits, binging boxed sets on Netflix.
Slowly, slowly a few orders came in on the website. Mike and Verity had furloughed the staff, so handled it all on their own, filling a couple of days a week with parceling things up, visiting the post office and delivery as many local orders as they could. They discovered a few new parts of Birmingham in those days! And it became obvious that our loyal customers were ordering from our website. By no means did the website replace the volume of business we were used to, but it did provide us with a little income - and a little hope.
June 15th, non essential shops could re open for business, but with very little people working in offices, fewer shopping for pleasure and many of us very cautious of being out of our houses, business was slower than slow. And so we concentrated on building up and promoting the website. Now, wrapping up delicate ceramics, cuddly toys, pieces of jewellery, mugs etc might be a bit of a challenge, it doesn't match the pleasure of personally helping customers. But mixing it in a day with a few precious (physical) customers filled the summer and autumn days.
November, and another month of Lockdown. The website had grown substantially, both in size and custom, so we returned to a routine of wrapping, visiting the post office and restocking whilst also attempting to predict what Christmas might bring. Not the easiest of tasks. Smithsonia, the shop, is not the best shape to make social distancing easy and so we had to consider how many customers we could safely allow in, how many staff. In a normal December, the shop floor can be so full that, as a member of staff, you can come out from behind a counter to help someone and practically have to master a rugby weave to get back ! But what about this year?
We decided to err on the side of caution and neither overstock with products or employ seasonal staff. When we opened (again) in December, it was proved that both were good decisions. It was a comparatively quiet month with the emergence of a new, more contagious, variant of coronavirus. Three of the five of us working are over 60 and we all became a little anxious about working out and about in a city centre. I have to say, a huge majority of our lovely customers were very respectful of the extra precautions, but there were the occasional times when the desire to buy the right Christmas present led to moments of forgetfulness - particularly about social distancing, but we managed the situations that arose as safely as possible and with the biggest smiles we could muster! And then it was Christmas Eve and we shut the doors with a sigh of relief.....
And today is April 12th, and we open the doors with great excitement! Four of us have had our first vaccinations, the numbers of active cases in the area, and the whole country have dropped rapidly and we all feel happier to be meeting people.
The whole atmosphere feels more positive, a few more people have returned to offices, more folks are out and about and there seems to be a great desire to shop. We have no idea how this is all going to pan out. There can be no argument that city centre 'high streets' have changed for ever. We can only hope that there is still enough of a desire to physically shop for the more unusual, personal items, the type of things we sell. And that that, and our bigger and better website, will create just the right mix of business for us.
Wish us luck and please visit either us in the shop, or our website. We are so grateful for every sale we make or order we receive. As they say, "If you buy something from an Independent shop, a real person does a little dance!"
And we do!