Reprinted with permission from the Watlington Times (March 2019). Pick up your copy from the Co-op for just 50p.
"The Village that keeps on giving". That was the comment made by a well off west London friend of my daughter-in-law who had driven up from London to visit for lunch. As she walked down the High Street yet one more enticing shop after another allowed her to do almost all her Christmas shopping here.
Over the last few years Watlington's High Street has acquired some interesting new shops and the old ones have been revamped. We hear lots of anecdotal news that it has become a 'destination'. Actually it has gone beyond and anecdote and is true.
On the corner Bella Luce with its spectacular lights in the window catches the eye of passing traffic topped at the Town Hall, especially at night when the lamps are lit. As a result they get customers from as far as Cheltenham and Nottingham who make a special stop to visit the shop. You will have noticed the lady with umbrella lamps, these are hand made in Greece and dozens have been sold.
The Italian Handbag Shop despite being small also attracts the attention of passing drivers sitting in traffic. For the owner, Catherine Johnson, business has been good; she has a wide price range from £25 - £250 so lots of customers come in to buy small presents. She buys all her bags from small family run leather workshops outside Florence. It shows just how far the incompetence of our government reaches in that at present she buys small quantities at each order so if a line does not sell she is not stuck with stock, but with Brexit looming should she now take a risk and spend thousands of pounds stockpiling bags that might not sell?
When I walked into K is for kitchen I was assailed by a lovely smell of cooking... It was Wednesday and Wendy was preparing quiches on their dinky little single plate Aga. It's like an Aladdin's cave and a testament to Amanda Hinton's imagination that apart from selling kitchen stuff they hold cookery demonstrations prepare food to order for parties, baptisms, business lunches etc. have started a wedding list service, sell Cook Ready Meals and Ice Cream and kitchen units. I enquired about their best seller, apparently Self Sealing Lids, they are silicone suction lids you can use on frying pans and in the fridge. I was given a demonstration, put a lid on a glass and lift it up by the lid's handle and it sticks... Magic!
The revamped Calnan's Butchers also draws in customers from quite a distance, as far as Aylesbury. Their best seller is the ready prepared dishes; they are all made in the shop, many by Tom Calnan himself.
Robin at the Granary hopes that his new more spacious shop will allow people to find things more easily. The extra space lets him have a whole wall of local - well from between London and Bristol - bottled beers. The bigger café now has a quieter side where people feel more able to work and have business meetings. Let's hope the longer stays translate into more spending.
Drapes, the interior designers, have been in Watlington for 37 years and their workshop in the High Street making all types of soft furnishings, curtains and upholstery, etc. Their shop in Couching Street with such decorative window displays is really the show room for their dozen of textile sample books.
I can't mention every shop but now we hardly need to leave Watlington, we can buy presents for all occasions and things for the house, Mercy in Action has given us a clothes shop and the Rhubarb Tree has taken over selling stationery from the old Post Office, Angela provides vegetables and we have fresh fish from the back of a van on Thursday.
We might criticise the Co-op for running out of stock, but what would we do without it and as far as I can see it's not the staff's fault, all decisions on stock are taken by the head office in Warwick and not the local managers. How mad is that? Our branch is a 'Premium Store' which means we have more of their high end 'Truly Irresistible' range and which is why there are 41 different teas. I asked what their best seller was - Prosecco and salmon fillets. What a lot of lushes we are! That is why so much shelf space is given over to white wine.
When so many villages are losing not just their shops but pubs too, we must keep on 'use it or lose it' to ensure the High Street stays as vibrant as it is now and hope the Edge Road won't divert all the passing trade as well as the traffic. The big unknown of course is what is going to happen to the newly refurbished Home Care shop, the letting agents have been inundated with enquiries.