We caught up with gift shop owner Ellie Laine Bartle to discover how her business survived lockdown, how it feels to open again – and what’s selling well
Ellie, how did you cope when non-essential shops were told to close?
I was relieved when the decision was taken out of my hands. It was disheartening to be out of business temporarily, but it was just a small and necessary part myself and all other small independent shops had to play to get us through this as safely as possible.
How did you find government support?
The local council wrote to me and explained how to apply for the small business non-repayable government grant. The application form online took just a few minutes to complete and was really rather straightforward to access.
Did you work on building social media/online presence during lockdown?
Iâ€™m a wary social media user, but its true value was enhanced during lockdown and follower count did rise significantly. I used the time to re-design my website and add an online shopping facility to give customers more options and ways to support us when theyâ€™re not able to visit us directly.
How did you feel during this time?
I tried to make the most of it and got so much done. Cleaning, paperwork, organising and planning filled my days well. Jobs that would have taken me months to work on amongst daily shop life all got seen to.
How have you found the re-opening process?
I was really anxious about it, but I was met with so much support. I was busier than I thought I would be and absolutely everyone that has come in since I re-opened has said how glad they are the shop is open again. It feels quite unnatural to have a perspex screens and so on, but everyone has been understanding.
Whatâ€™s your impression of the â€˜new normalâ€™?
I like to promote self-care and stock a lot of items that help with that, such as Pukka Tea and Teapigs teabags, Heathcote & Ivory bath products and Tisserand Aromatherapy ranges. However, the guidelines regarding social distancing are something I canâ€™t wait to see the back of. It gives off quite a clinical and rigid approach that isnâ€™t the shopping environment I want to create.
Are you looking to replenish stock in coming weeks and months?
Combined with the government grant and the fact that re-opening has gone so well so far, I feel in a stable position to really go for it. Iâ€™m due a Heathcote & Ivory delivery this week as well as a replenish of Rosie Made A Thing coasters. Instead of just a Thank You Teacher card and gift selection this year, I put together a table display of general Thank You cards and gifts. Tink & Reu have handmade me some gorgeous fabric rainbows, and Jennie Sergeant Designs have supplied me with some handmade character rainbow keyrings and lavender bags.
Plans for the rest of 2020?
I have a newfound confidence in myself, my shop, and the small independent business sector as a whole. With customers coming to us to avoid long queues and large crowds in supermarkets and shopping centres, we have a real chance to show that we are hidden gems and the lifeblood of our communities. We have proven that we can adapt to ever-changing circumstances and always come out fighting. We may be small, but weâ€™re also mighty!