Why Wick shops have been at the heart of the community during Covid
In a year that has seen most of us spend unprecedented amounts of time in and around our homes, the importance of local shops has never been greater.
Village stores and local shopping parades have been a lifeline to so many of us during more than a year of Covid-19 providing vital services and groceries when we were in lockdown. And now restrictions have eased, and all shops are able to be open, businesses in Wick are hoping people will continue to support them by shopping local.
Suzanne Bennett, who manages the large St Barnabas House hospice shop in Wick Street, said: “When I came to manage this shop, I wanted to create something with a community feel to it, where people can support the hospice by donating and saving themselves money when they come in and buy something.
“Also, there’s a big recycling message here, as it stops things being put into landfill.”
And while the shop is vital for raising much-needed funds for the hospice, and acting as a signpost for its services, Suzanne said it was much more than just a retail location.
“We’re part of the ‘Our Town’ scheme, where adults with special needs know they can come if they don’t feel safe. They have a card with their carer’s details on it, and we’ll call them and provide them with a place to wait if they need it.
“We also have a lot of regular customers, and we get to know them all, and the sorts of things they might be looking for.
“We have a good sense of community here, and I think we play an important part in Wick Village life.”
It is a sentiment echoed by Roger Arthurs, who has owned car-spares shop Going Spare in the village for the past 31 years.
He described the atmosphere over the past year as like the ‘Blitz spirit’ and said he was hopeful people would continue to use Wick shops as lockdown restrictions ease further. “I think one of the positive things to come out of Covid is people using local shops more because they needed to stay local,” he said.
“We’ve certainly had new customers, and generally there has been a really good atmosphere and people have been looking out for each other.
“We’ve always had a good sense of community in Wick, and I think people here realise we are all in this together, so let’s fight it together.
“I hope we can build on that going forward, and get some more community events going.”
Roger was instrumental in bringing events like Wickmas, pantomimes and Wickstry to the area in previous years, and is hopeful things like them will be able to happen again soon.
Over the road, Michelle Bly is about to celebrate 30 years at The Flower Shop – 15 as an employee and 15 as the owner.
She reflected on the last year and said it had been challenging, but said she was determined to keep going.
“It’s definitely been tough but we’ve done our best to adapt,” she said.
“When lockdown first hit, we had to reconfigure the shop, so the girls had more space to work safely.
“The variety of the work wasn’t there so much, because we could only do deliveries, but I think people were happy to receive flowers from people they weren’t able to see.”
Michelle said what set her business apart from supermarkets and bigger national chains was the personal service it offers.
She added: “Also, our flowers are so fresh. If people haven’t had them before they often comment on how long they last. They are sourced locally, too. We buy alstroemeria from Crosslands Flowers at Walberton and others from Brighton.
“And all the girls I employ are local, so you’re not just supporting a local business, but local people as well.”
Michelle said another of the perks of her shop was that you did not have to queue, like you might at the supermarket,
Speaking about Wick in general, she said: “We did have a good village spirit, and we want to get that back up and running again.
“I’m quite determined to keep my shop going, and to keep providing a service for the community here.”
Just a couple of doors down at It’s a Pet’s Life, Graham Boiling has spent most of his time as the owner dealing with Coronavirus restrictions.
He only took over the business in December, 2019, and said while he had been allowed to stay open and trade, it had been a year featuring ups and downs.
“Because of a shortage in supply, people have been having a job getting hold of certain things, so I think we have had more customers coming to us,” he said.
“Some of them have gone back to the supermarkets, but I think we have retained some of the customers because of the level of personal service we can provide.
“We can provide advice for people and we do free deliveries, which can be useful for people who can’t manage to carry the larger items home.”
Graham said items like bird food had been much more popular during lockdown, making them harder to find and more expensive.
He said he was trying his best not to pass on the price increases to customers, saying it had been ‘difficult’ but he was doing his best.
He added: “We feel the sense of community here in Wick. The town centre feels like a bit of a ghost town, so I think these local shopping parades are even more important.
“Our customers are lovely, and we have lots of local characters who like to pop in.
“Just because we’re a local business, doesn’t mean you will necessarily pay more than a supermarket, so we hope people would give us a try.”
Sue French has been running hairdresser Ikon Hair Design for the last seven years, and had done her best to ‘Covid-proof’ her business.
She said customers could be assured it was very safe in her salon, and that they had all necessary measures in place to ensure people could get their hair done safely.
In doing this, she said it had reduced the number of customers the three stylists at the salon could see each day, but she was hopeful her customers would continue to support her.
She said: “It’s been very difficult, and in my experience Arun District Council weren’t very quick in paying out the grants, so it was tough.
“That’s why we hope people will come and support us and all the shops here. If people come and take a look, there’s almost everything you could need. We look forward to welcoming people in.”