It seems to me modern retailers are constantly searching for more and more elaborate ways to lure their customers off the sofa and away from the internet. Whether it’s Topshop with hair salons and pop-up juice bars or Nike sending content to customer’s mobiles and allowing them to custom design their trainers, it’s easy to see that there is a lot of effort going into attracting customer attention.
But away from the big metropolises in smaller shopping pockets of the world, there still exists a bounty of beautiful one-off shops stubbornly refusing to give in to the technological advancements that are engulfing us all.
According to the British Independent Retailers Association in 2017, 4 new independent shops opened everyday, while chain stores continued to decline.
Where I’m based in San Sebastian, I have two favourites: Irulea; a family run business selling household linen, night garments, children’s wear and fabric and lace by the meter. Set in the heart of the old town it retains all the original dark wooden and gold handled furniture. They pride themselves on their personalisation, hand making products and embroidering initials in different designs.
The second is Arezana; a homeware shop founded in 1900 stacked with strings and chords of many colours, artisan cooking instruments and piles of woven baskets. It’s like stepping back in time when you enter, with the weighing scales, an old fashioned till and ladders to move around the ceiling-high stock placed on the rustic wooden display units, the soft smell of wicker in the background.
Here’s a few things I think make these old fashioned, independent shops so special:
- The signage above the door – often hand painted, marble backdropped or gilded lettering. The welcome into these old fashioned shops has a touch of craftsmanship that places them a cut above their acrylic nextdoor neighbours.
- The showroom window displays – some of these shops put all their worldly wares in the window. I love how you can pick what you want before going inside and asking for your size and colour.
- The over-the-counter service – As the products are stacked high behind the counter, a little light hearted interaction with the shopkeeper is part of the service.
- The pretty packaging – the products often come in gift boxes with tissue paper or nice paper bags to give a touch of quality and create a sense of occasion.
It’s hard to know how long these little slices of history will last with the wave of changes sweeping the retail world. But according to the British Independent Retailers Association in 2017, 4 new independent shops opened everyday, while chain stores continued to decline.
As I enter these shops, I feel a wave of calm and a spark of joy. They’re a world away from the flashing screens, neon lights and pumping music of the modern store. It made me think perhaps digitalising and over designing our shops isn’t always the answer. If we could take a sprinkle of the old fashioned shop elegance, with the love and attention that goes into their displays and customer care, maybe the future of retail lies a little in the past.