Big names and chains are refreshingly scarce in Birmingham’s Great Western Arcade, which is filled instead with an array of independent businesses. From clothing to coffee, a day spa and regular pop-ups, the Victorian arcade is a haven for customers keen on browsing small independently-run businesses.
Daisy Nyamie opened Peter Forson Hats and Scarves just over a year ago, choosing Birmingham over London, because of the latter’s unaffordable rents. “I did my research and I could see the future in this city,” she says. “Independent businesses need a platform to stand on, and Small Business Saturday is good for that.”
The traders in the arcade regularly team up or refer business to each other. Daisy sends customers to wine merchant Loki Wine, which in turn gets bread and cheese for its food platters from its neighbours. Loki’s assistant manager John Bauckham says they’ve teamed up with a chocolate shop to put together festive champagne and chocolate gift sets. He says: “Pretty much all of us are independent, so it’s good to promote Small Business Saturday.”
Elsewhere, Birmingham Originals – a network of creatives who sell on Etsy – is staging a three-day Winter Makers Market. Organiser Adrienne Frances runs creative company Frilly Industries, which was named one of the Small Biz 100, in the city’s Jewellery Quarter with business partner Kirsty Hillyer. She says: “We live in a world full of mass-produced stuff but my preference is to buy from an independent business. As a maker, the ethos of Small Business Saturday aligns really nicely with that.”
Fellow Birmingham businesswoman Rachel Conlisk, owner of Spinsonic Entertainment, which sells handmade hula hoops and classes, was one of 100 businesses invited to a Downing Street reception on Thursday. She said: “Small Business Saturday is so supportive and nurturing for small business owners which is important because it’s a long and lonely calling.”
The picturesque market town of Tetbury was once famous for its woollen trade, and as you walk along the high street lined with centuries-old houses built in pale Cotswold stone you’d be hard pushed to find a shop here that isn’t a small independent.
On Market Place stands the modishly dark-painted facade of jewellery boutique Taylor Black, set up by Hatton Garden-trained Philippa Taylor just over a year ago. “I love shopping in towns that offer something unique and different,” says Taylor, who recently designed a distinctive new collection based on the renowned Giffords Circus which is based in the Cotswolds. “Joining with others in initiatives like Small Business Saturday is the only way for small businesses to get a critical mass of awareness that’s consistent across the country.”
Further north-eastwards into the Cotswolds is the ancient Roman town of Cirencester, where the New Brewery Arts centre is home to Emily Northen’s Hand Bound Books. Northen only signed up to Small Business Saturday last week; she got involved “because I wanted an alternative to all the hype surrounding Black Friday,” she explains.
“It just seems like something for us independents; a sense of community, a gathering of people who like myself run small outfits, and a reminder to the public that we are here and that they don’t have to buy their Christmas presents from the big brands.”
You could finish off the morning’s shopping with a cake, a cuppa and a good read at owner-run bookshop and cafe Jaffé & Neale in Chipping Norton. “Retail can be pretty soulless, so we try to offer the opposite of that,” says co-owner Patrick Neale, whose Small Business Saturday posters are up, ready to welcome the morning’s customers.
This bookshop is a place to browse and to dream, to natter and meet other people who love books: it all helps to build and sustain a thriving local community, Neale believes. Having just celebrated 15 years in the town, and with a new bookshop just opened in Stow-on-the Wold, he is delighted that a lot of their customers clearly “get it”.
Christmas shoppers are drifting in and out of the pubs, coffee shops and quirky independent stores in Edinburgh’s old Grassmarket.
The Tailor Retailored is one of the independent retailers in this now trendy part of Edinburgh’s Old Town hoping to benefit from Small Business Saturday and attract at least some of those shoppers inside. The shop sources its products from manufacturers in Hawick, famous for its knitwear.
John MacEwan, director of the store, said he fully supported the ideas of the annual event because it fitted the ethos of his company – selling locally-produced, quality men’s clothing. “If people are looking for something different, that is what we are about and this event gives us a reason to communicate [that],” he says. “We are offering extra discounts today … [and] spreading the word through social media.”
Gail Bryden, the founder of Justbe Botanicals, is doing something a little different: she is using Small Business Saturday to piggy-back on one of the UK’s big businesses and has taken up residence as a ‘pop-up’ shop in the George Street branch of the White Stuff – a national company firmly established on one of Edinburgh’s most expensive traditional high streets.
“Their customer base is my customer base and it helps us both,” she says.
Bryden’s pop-up shop offers everything from hand massages to stocking fillers of beauty products – all of which seem to going down very well with the shoppers.
“It’s really important to raise the profile of small businesses and it has been proved that, for every pound that goes into a local independent business, the majority spreads through the local economy,” she says.
Kim Duncan is the owner of Treehouse Childrenswear in the upmarket residential area of Stockbridge where individual independent traders have come together for Small Business Saturday. They have a Father Christmas and real reindeer, Treehouse is switching on its Christmas lights and there are signs in the windows of several of the stores promoting Small Business Saturday.
“It’s all about encouraging people to go into their local high streets and support local businesses,” Duncan says.“It’s about getting into the minds of consumers that their spending goes into the local economy. We can’t compete with the big retailers on Black Friday, so this is for us.”
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