One of the pleasures I take in visiting smaller towns and villages in North Wales derives from the variety I see on the high street. Unlike cities and towns where small businesses have been beaten by the lowest common denominators of ‘cheap’ and ‘easy’, local businesses create colour and diversity. They’re owned by real people who know their customers personally - their likes, dislikes and values - and are in a position to offer individualised advice.
In a world addicted to choice and convenience, shopping small can seem like an unnecessary hassle. Why trail around several outlets for your weekly grocery shop when the supermarket on the outskirts of town stocks everything? Even better, why not order online and book a delivery slot? That way you don’t even need to leave the house!
And yet in smaller towns and rural areas in particular, shopping small and shopping local are more than empty phrases: they’re a way of life. Some of the benefits are obvious - the sense of community which local shops create and foster, for example, and the smile and conversation they provide for the elderly and the isolated who might not see a friendly face from one day to the next.
After the commercially-run village shop closed in the village of Cilcain, North East Wales in February of this year, residents were devastated. However, locals didn’t spend long lamenting; instead, they created a steering group and proposed the opening of a new Community Shop run by volunteers. After obtaining approval from the Village Hall Committee and the Community Council and securing funding from a Sustainable Development Fund grant and donations, the wheels were set in motion. Over 200 locals viewed the different options proposed, cast their vote and volunteered to assist, and much of the physical work needed to set up the shop was carried out by village residents.
Many of the shop’s fittings and furnishings, including the counter, the café store cupboard, bench seating and cushions, were made from refurbished and donated second-hand items. The shop shelving was manufactured from recycled pallets by local artisan Dan Pickles and a distinctive shop logo was created by local artist, Wendi Williams-Shiel. On the 16th May this year, the Cilcain Community Shop opened for business, selling newspapers, locally sourced ice cream, dairy and meat products, general groceries, household items and a cafe, as well as a Post Office service two days a week. A lifeline for elderly and isolated residents was restored and a triumph of local, individual and sustainable over global and generic was heralded.
Moreover, behind the shopfront and signage there’s often passion, and with passion comes unrivalled knowledge and expertise. Try it for yourself - speak to your local independent butcher about which cuts he’d recommend for a special family meal and how he’d prepare and cook the meat. Then try the same at your local supermarket. Which response do you think would generally be the most thorough and useful?
Take Wish - a stylish boutique selling gifts, jewellery and cards in Rhuddlan, North Wales. After years working for big brands like Topshop and Benetton, owner Nia Parry decided she wanted to set up her own business. A village or small town location was top of her list; she wanted to be able to really get to know her customers and offer them a truly personalised service. “I only sell products I love,” says Nia. “And I definitely represent my brand - everything I sell is something I’d wear myself, or love to have in my home.” Nia is a Welsh speaker and passionate about Welsh produce and craft: she sells soaps made on Anglesey and bath and beauty products from Ruthin.
When you shop locally, you’re not only interacting with real people, though; you’re supporting them. Small businesses create jobs in your area and spending money locally means that money is more likely to stay in your area - for every £1 spent in a small to medium sized business, on average 63p stays local, as opposed to 40p for every £1 spent in larger businesses. Suddenly a convenient supermarket shop doesn’t feel like such good value - if not for you, then for your town or local area.
There’s also the benefit that the produce you buy from a small to medium-sized business tends to be more ethical. It’s often locally-sourced and has travelled fewer miles to reach the local supplier or shop. As a result, it’s less likely to be swathed in plastic or packaging and it’s frequently fresher. It’s not always the cheapest option, but I’ve written about adjusting our values recently on The Hills’ blog: what if wanting ‘more’ didn’t automatically mean ‘more for your money’ but rather demanding more in terms of an ethical standard? Defining ‘more’ as having a clear conscience and a sense of being right with the world? With this definition of ‘more’ in place we might start scrutinising our lifestyle and shopping habits and be more inclined to support the businesses on our doorstep.
And the jewel in the Shop Small campaign crown is North Wales’ very own historic market town Denbigh, recently voted top of the list of market towns in which to live and work in the country. With a number of above average work-life balance indicators, plus an artisan chocolate shop, an eclectic vintage boutique and the Carriageworks CIC, the award was well deserved.
So the next time you head out onto the high streets of North Wales, take a look at the local businesses that surround you and consider doing what you can to support them. Vive la Shop Small Revolution!