Helping Mike Alford and his family and in turn, helping to protect our High Street by successfully campaigning against Tesco installing a Timpson pod at The Townsend Retail Park, gave me a warm glow and a real sense of achievement. Today, though, I feel like a firefighter who has been fighting one blaze, only to turn around and see that another fire was burning and the sustainability of another business on our High Street has been under threat. That business, Penny's Sweets, right next door to our shop, has now closed. Jenny Penny is pleased to take on new opportunities, which is a good thing but I feel gutted that they have closed.
I came to Shepton Mallet with the aim of helping to revitalise the High Street, to help visitors and locals to realise what brilliantly cool shops we have. Right from the word go, Jenny and her family were very welcoming, as our shop neighbours. I particularly enjoyed the support that Jenny and I gave to each other. I sent customers to her, she sent customers to me.
The closure of Penny's Sweets is a real blow to the High Street. To me it looks like a row of teeth with a space, where one has been knocked out, there's a gap, a big, vacant screaming gap. I'm trying to be thankful that the only casualty seems to be the shop, rather than Jenny or her family. Taking the decision to shut your shop is a very difficult process and it can destroy some people, so I take great solace in the fact that Jenny has retained her sanity and health. However, on a personal level for me, I feel so upset by this, I can hardly gather together my motivation to go into work today.
I've never thought about what it feels like for the shop keeper of the shop next door to the one that closed, before. In this instance, this shopkeeper feels very, very upset and sad, it is almost like there has been a death. I feel like crying and do, sometimes, when I walk past that closed door. I have in my mind the image of a happy, lively place, which is now a tombstone. I might get that a bit more into perspective soon but that's how it feels to me right now.
My morale is rock bottom and I want to blame someone. Basically, it's your fault because you didn't pop in enough and you didn't buy enough, or is it the fault of the economy, with the prison closure, the Co-operative bank closing and so on, or maybe is it the fault of the council, the accountancy firm at The Mill moved to Wells, as they couldn't get planning permission to expand their offices here in Shepton, or maybe it is my fault, I was completely focused on saving the High Street from the Timpson pod, depleting footfall even further, whilst in the meantime, my neighbour's business closes? Now I pose myself the difficult question, did my business help or hinder the business next door?
I like to think that I bought more visitors into town and I promoted Penny's Sweets to my customers and to all my visitors, I also talked about Penny's Sweets on social media. I like to think I helped the business next door to me but did I truly? I set up a Shepton Mallet Shops website to support all independent shops and businesses in the area and a Facebook Group, Discover Shepton Mallet, to let everyone know about these kinds of hidden gems. It wasn't enough, more needed to be done. Doing more in these times is like riding a ship in a storm, with one hand on the steering wheel, (If that's what it's called on a ship), whilst bailing out water, with a bucket, with the other hand.
I know I can't take on responsibility for the whole High Street but I do have to accept at least some responsibility for there now being an empty shop, next to mine. If I don't then I deny myself the power to make changes and make a difference in the future.
So, for the while, let me feel sad and analyse what I can do better in the future, with your support.