In Praise Of.. independent shops

I was mooching around the Grauniad site, and stumbled upon their independent shopping directory again. Jeanette Winterson’s introduction to the directory did what really good pieces do- it took the words right out of one’s mouth. As I read the opening paragraph, it got me thinking about the absolutely irreplaceable places I love and have loved, in Ireland and abroad.

(Julie Burchill got a dig in, of course. Her obviously deeply-considered argument went along the following lines: “I love Tesco it has everything lalala la lala can’t hear you middle-class whiners laaaaaaa”. Wow, convincing. As someone who is decidedly not middle class meself, the argument that apparently I only like places like this (a) because I have the money to like them, (b) because I desperately seek affirmation or (c) because I automatically hate large enterprise really misses the mark. Any self-respecting lover of the one-of-a-kind nook will tell you that’s bunk, and get on with things. Ah well, let her at the aul’ straw men if that’s what makes her happy, eh?)

I have the option of sourcing all my beads, wools, habadashery and papercraft materials online without ever interacting with a soul, but I go into these shops wherever I find them, because it’s so inspiring to see what beads, findings and materials other people are drawn to- what their personal favourites and finds are, beyond the obvious. The staff and owners, who take pride in what they do- the lovely gent in that tiny crammed beadshop in the centre of Prague, who looked at every single bead I picked out to make sure they were just right, the very kind folks in This is Knit who have used every single yarn (or almost) they sell and can tell you exactly what you need for That Amazing Bag, M in Crown Jewels who has an amazing eye for colour and will never leave you stuck and the lovely team behind BDI, who are honest and generous to a fault with advice and help.

I’m not by habit a demoniser of chain stores or big operations, just because- I find the good and bad in both (the Art and Hobby Shop is consistently decent, and there is a nameless bead shop in Dublin I will never again buy from, thanks to the combination of rude staff and shoddy goods). But, as Winterson argues:

“It might be a tiny, butterfly-wing difference, but every pound you spend outside the global chain funds an alternative… A real little shop will give you more than you are paying for, because not everything that matters in this life can be bought.”


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