1. Continuity is crucial. My grandfather opened the shop, and I took over from my parents when they retired. I’ve been here for more than 50 years now, but my children are doing other things so all I can do is try to sell it as a going concern – and at least no-one can change the frontage. Next door was a big family-run department store called Daniels who all died out.
2. People will always want something that little bit different, something dressy. Especially after the war, when clothing had been under government restriction and everything was plain. Women hadn’t seen embroidered dresses for years. We had queues outside the shop.
3. Material should be made in Britain. We used to be the biggest exporters of clothing in the world. Now they’ve closed all the mills that made the cloth, we’re having to buy it from Italy and Eastern Europe. Even if they’re made here, the cloth comes from abroad.
4. Sell to your clientele. That’s how we’ve managed to survive over the years. We’re the only place round here where an older woman can buy classic styles. Youngsters used to be the biggest market, but it’s a different world now. The average age of our customers is going up and up – we have many now who are 100+ whose carers come in.
5. You can see people’s personalities in what they buy. Some are the head of the family; others are more quiet, so they choose long-sleeved, high-necked blouses. We’ve had transvestites in. They arrive as a man and try on a dress. They want something a bit more showy, because they’re going to make a statement on stage.
It’s very difficult to try and influence anybody. But customers can still surprise me. An older woman might buy something bright like the red polka-dot dress. I’ll let her reminisce about going dancing, about returning to her youth in the 1960s.
7. I couldn’t be very modern, I don’t know how. It wouldn’t suit me. Let’s leave that to somebody younger and in the swing of things.
Interview: Anna Bear
Photography by Tom Storr.