There’s no better time to consider the nature of change than spring. And this spring has been more changeable than most, writes Hannah Plant. When suddenly chill winds evaporate into balmy sunshine, buds blossom on tree-lined south London streets and long-forgotten sundresses and shorts make their way back into rotation, it’s an annual reminder that the nature of life is change.
So it’s with this natural flux particularly in mind that I’ve been thinking about my time spent running a business on the high street. Change is no stranger to the small business owner. We all have to adapt to customer’s tastes and habits which, upsettingly, never seem to remain static for long.
An inflexible business is one doomed to fall by the wayside and in the age of internet shopping and rapidly cycling seasonal shopping, this has never been more true. And yet as necessary as it is, change can also be anxiety provoking. What if a new line doesn’t sell? What if a rebrand doesn’t work? What if customers hate the new direction?
Another question of change that has been causing me some anxiety recently is whether to continue running my business, or to sell up and move on. This year has been exceptionally changeable for me personally, and I’ve come to realise my heart lies in a more political career path(more fool me ).
But letting go of what has been simultaneously a dream come true and a labour of love – Honeybourne’s on Ladywell high street – is a difficult and scary prospect, as I think moving on from something you adore will always be.
Ladywell is my home. Apart from Uni, I’ve never lived in another postcode, which is something I tell people about myself to illustrate how deeply sad and ingrained is my love for the place. I don’t intend to live anywhere else, either.
When the previous owner of my shop indicated his desire to leave Ladywell, I felt really sad. I wondered if the high street would be as good without his lovely business on it.
So, ever the impulsive type, I bought it from him and invested my own time, taste and money to create a place I would have wanted to shop in were I not stood behind the till rather than in front of it.
It would therefore be hypocritical of me to hang on to Honeybourne’s when I can no longer invest the time and love that it, or Ladywell, deserves. Which is why I made the tough decision to sell earlier this year.
The new businesses flourishing on the high street make me feel like this is absolutely the right move. Sometimes you have to let go of something good to make way for something better and the fresh perspective of a new owner will undoubtedly invigorate the business and bring something new to the table for local residents.
I like to think of the shops on the high street not as static monoliths to be owned forever by the same people, but as ever-evolving communal assets, passed from person to person like batons through time.
A man came into my shop a few months ago. I could tell he wasn’t a regular customer as he wasn’t really looking at my stock – he was looking through it. I asked him if I could help and he told me his father used to own the shop in the 80s and 90s when it was a grocers.
I told him I remembered buying dates from his Dad as a tiny child and we swapped stories of shopkeeper-life. This man’s fond nostalgia touched me but was also a reminder that my shop wasn’t always mine, much as it won’t always be in the future.
As business owners we are custodians. We create anew the businesses that were always here. We make our mark. And then we move on – sometimes after a few years, sometimes after a few decades. The one certainty is that change is coming to Ladywell. And it’s no bad thing.
Roll on summer!