"I don’t buy the tidbits in my local shop," says Darren.
When I was a teenager, I worked for three summers and countless weekends in my local shop in Tipperary. To this day, I’m still able to expertly pull a ‘99 cone, but that’s just a party trick. I also learned a great deal about myself.
Working in that grocery shop and filling station led me to discover the kind of employee I am, my work ethic, the kind of person I am and the value of money.
It also instilled in me the value of community in keeping a premises like that going.
Customers would come in for everything from hurling grips to bicycle tyres. The owner even fixed watches. It was that kind of shop and it was supported by the local people from all around.
There was one woman who always filled her car with petrol in the shop. I knew to go out and fill the car for her, it was what she wanted, it meant I often left the shop unattended.
She always gave me €2 for filling her car; it meant the world to me. That anecdote sums up what makes a good local business, in my view. Somebody in this office said recently, it’s the personal touches. Others came in and would buy their bread, milk, a pack of rashers or six slices of ham/corn beef.
I got to know some local people a little bit more and I got to know others who had been complete strangers to me. I took all the lessons I learned with me into my adult life. It’s too sweeping to use the phrase “lessons I learned”.
I’ll tell you some of them. First of all, I learned the importance of even the most basic of manners, the importance of listening to customers and to people who know more than you do, to never stop learning, to strive for perfection even though you’ll always make mistakes and fall short.
I learned about the rewards of being kind and polite to people. I learned that a hard day’s work is as good for your head as it is for your pocket. I could go on...
I carried so much of that experience into my career and into my 20s but I left one part of it behind. Working there didn’t instill in me the habits that the customers coming in had. I don’t shop like they did.
I don’t buy the tidbits in my local shop. I wouldn’t even know the names of the people in the shop I buy my groceries in were it not for the name tags on their chests.
The only thing I do buy off a local trader is diesel but even that premises is owned by a franchise now. I also buy my ‘99s in a local shop. It’s privately owned and is without the support of a big franchise.
There are local shops like that which are still thriving but there just aren’t enough of them.
The shop I worked in many summers ago has closed down now. So, it appears I’m not the only one to have abandoned the tradition of popping into the local shop.
They were successful because of convenience and now there are stores that are just more convenient for customers.
I regret that I always do my medium to big shops in the bigger retailers - but everything is cheaper and there are more products available.
Reflecting on my shopping habits and shopping experience for this column, I can’t help but feel that in going to the cheaper and bigger franchises, I’ve lost a potential magic in my life.
I’m missing out on something special that the customers in my local shop 12 years ago had tapped into.
It’s not that you’ve to spend huge amounts in them, the basics of bread, milk, a packet of gravy on a Sunday that you forgot to buy, are capable of keeping most afloat if enough people avail of their services.
The local shop is a special place, it’s a social space as well as a retail space. Hopefully, it will rise again.