Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Shops (Interesting Shops, that is!)

It might surprise those here who know me to find me penning a Blog entry on the subject of shopping. It’s never been my favourite pastime (bookshops expected, of course) but these days with every town having basically the same shops, it’s more dull than ever.

Occasionally, though, there are shops which somehow manage to buck the trend and remain perpetually the same, despite the onset of globalisation.

The most timeless of these A Oakes in Langley. In business since 1905 it was a regular haunt in my childhood, from visits to see Father Christmas (none of the “Santa Cklaus” business!) in the days when Father Christmas really was an old man and hadn’t been (or needed to be!) CRB checked. As I grew up it became the shop for my school uniforms and perhaps that’s why when I escaped from the hell that was my schooldays, I never went near the place again. Then, about a year or so ago, I was out driving with Mum and we thought we’d go in and have a look to see how much it had changed. Basically, it hadn’t! The place was almost exactly as I remembered it, with wooden draws full of socks and underwear stacked around the walls and – unusually, on reflection – a huge stock of model railway equipment for sale. A quick Google search has revealed that Oakes now even have an internet presence and seem set to continue for ever.

So timeless was it, I expected a Midland Red D9 to go past the door on a 215…….

Another of these time-warp stores is Walker & Ling in Weston-super-Mare. This has also been in business since the year dot and - although they’ve obviously had the decorators in more than Oakes, they still seem to thrive selling stuff that you’d expect most people now to buy from Debenham’s or M&S. The fact that they don’t and that they thrive as a locally-owned small business in a sea of retail mediocrity is a delight. I was very happy to buy myself a jacket there last week to help keep them going!

For sheer size, though the greatest of these shops I know of is Jackson’s, the old retailing lady of Reading. Unlike the others, Jackson’s really is a department store. Like Oakes, though, it will forever be associated for people of a certain age with stocking school uniforms. Whenever I’m working in Reading and have any locals on tours (which does happen), you can see everyone recalling an era of blazers, striped ties, sew-on name labels and football shirts. And, for all their history and conservatism, not only do Jacksons have a website, they have a Blog!

If you get a chance, go and support these businesses and other like them. Long may they continue to thrive!

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