I like a faceless multiple as much as the next girl. Shop, I mean, not anything more Erica Jong. But I also appreciate Lewes’s independent stores. Alas, one of the most eccentric is sounding the last post.
Once, I thought I saw a light on in The Treasury and dashed perilously across the road, but it was just the reflection from a bus. A faded handwritten note on the door acknowledges its unconventional opening hours, which are, in fact, non-existent. Over the years, I developed a small Treasury obsession. I didn’t, quite, sleep on the doorstep, but always checked to see if it was open whenever I passed. It never was.
I guess it’s not that surprising it’s closing down. Most small shopkeepers will tell you it’s hard to scrape a living, but they do at least open occasionally to allow people the opportunity to give them money. Brilliant, I thought. Well, obviously not brilliant it was closing, but brilliant that at last I could get in there and see what I’d been missing.
But the opening hours remained merely theoretical. I began to fear that one day the shop would simply disappear, and a fully formed chi-chi boutique would spring in its place, an artfully arranged silk cushion in the window. Then last Friday, a new note: ‘Final sale, starts Friday 11am.’ It was ten o’clock. I had things to do. But still… this could be my only chance. I spent the waiting hour going into other shops that were promiscuously open any old time. How brazen they seemed.
At five past eleven, I pushed the door, and with an Edgar Allen Poe kind of creeeeeeaaak, it actually opened. At last!
It was choc-full of stuff, like a parlour owned by a granny who never throws anything away. There was in fact a granny in attendance, strangely unimpressed to see me considering I was the first customer since 1972. I looked round, and realised with a clang that I don’t like knick-knacks. Never have. I’d hoped to buy something – anything – but did I really want a Smurf figurine costing four quid? (Actually, not at four pence, to be honest.)
Even with the sale, everything was breathtakingly, bizarrely expensive. The shop was like something from the past, but the prices were set some unimaginable time in the future, like the twenty-sixth century.
I found a passable brooch and choked when the lady said, ‘Twenty pounds.’ As this was likely to be her only transaction this millennium, I proposed a spot of light haggling, thinking to reach a fair compromise – say 75p. But she just gave a little sigh, and began pencilling implausible prices onto old postcards.
I asked when she was next open.
‘What’s today?’ she said vaguely, and I said ‘Friday’, adding, ‘October, 2009’, for clarity.
‘I’ll open again on Monday’.
‘Really?’ I said. It seemed a trifle hasty.
‘Monday’, she confirmed, and as I opened the door, said unapologetically, ‘From one to two o’clock.’
Beth Miller, 13th October 2009. Published in VivaLewes.com