Notes from a local shop

Posted: November 21, 2010 in Film, Food

Originally in my Wiltshire blog.

“This is a local shop for local people. There’s nothing for you here!”

So says Tubbs from The League of Gentleman to any outsider who happens to enter her shop. Married to her brother Edward, Tubbs is extremely distrustful of strangers and, along with Edward, often murders them. Sounds just like your local corner shop, doesn’t it?

There is a popular stereotype about local shops that was illustrated best by The League of Gentleman sketch described above. The scenario above is hilariously exaggerated, but the ideas are the same. Local shops are insular places. They don’t like ‘outsiders’ and treat them with distrust bordering on rudeness.

There is undoubtedly truth in this, to a varying degree, in every local shop. Even Edwin Giddings, the shop I worked at for six months was not entirely immune, and yet it was definitely on the lower end of the scale – as far away from Edward & Tubbs as the town of Royston Vassey.

Edwin Giddings is one of the oldest shops in Devizes. Originally it was solely a wine merchant; now it’s a wine shop, delicatessen and cafe. It was sold to the Wadworth Brewery after the death of Edwin Giddings himself in 1918.

Giddings is a local shop: Many of its customers are devout regulars who patronise the shop just as much to talk to the manager as they do to buy wine. After six months of working there many of them knew me by name and occasionally chatted with me as they would the manager.

Giddings is one of those old fashioned places where people congregate to share stories and gossip. It’s like the old local pub or barber shop, and yet to write it off as a quaint symbol of the past would be an injustice to a shop which continues to offer value in a way no supermarket can.

Imagine the scenario: you’re buying a bottle of wine for somebody who knows a thing or two about the stuff. You know they drink French and that they usually drink red, but that’s it. You don’t know which region they like and even if you did, you don’t know which wines offer the best value.

In a supermarket you would be lost. Aisles of wine bottles would glare sharply under artificial light, all looking exactly the same. You might try and read the write-up on the back of the bottle, but usually they’re about as informative as a Hollywood tagline: “Merlot just got fruitier”, “Get ready for the Shirazamatazz” etc.

In a small shop like Giddings this isn’t a problem. One of the big draws of the place is the fact that Colin, the manager, can always suggest something to suit your taste. Like all good wine shops, you only have to say what you’ll be eating for dinner and Colin will have just the wine in mind.

It was this personal touch which impressed me most during my time working at Giddings; a shop with all the best attributes of a ‘local’, but without the rudeness or, God forbid, the murderous undertones of Royston Vassey.


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