Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Got along without you before I met you, gonna get along without you now

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


  1. Sounds like my kind of shop. I was always rather taken by the (apparently true) story of the man who went into the only bookshop in Kendal and asked the owner if he had a copy of 'Bright Lights, Big City' by Jay McInerney. 'Why do you want to read that?' came the robust reply. Surely this is English service culture at its most vigorous? Despite my boyish good looks I am, in truth, a man of a certain age. As such, I'm not entirely comfortable with shop assistants who actually want to sell me things. For instance, I can't believe I'm the only 40-something who, when asked by a 17 year old coffee-monger whether I want 'a muffin with that', feels - well - a little alarmed. You're never quite sure what they're asking are you? Here's another case in point. The other day I was greeted by a young man (looking remarkably like Bob Dylan circa 1966) with the words, 'Easy man'. 'Er, yes, how do you do?', I replied, offering him my hand. He gripped it as if we were about to arm-wrestle and said, 'Sweet'. Incomprehensible ...

    Bucks Boy

  2. Bucks Boy, I sympathise. I it was who, circa 1982, on attempting to buy a cheeseburger in McDonalds (I refer you to the date in order to excuse my youthful self) and being asked if I wanted fries with that, replied, 'If I'd have wanted fries I'D HAVE ASKED FOR FRIES'. Then I had to be removed from the premises in a mouth-frothing frenzy.

    Ahem. That's enough disclosure for one day.

  3. I got in the shop, once, and didn't buy anything. The old lady was there, as was the old man, both without the slightest interest in selling any item. I await the 'Everything Must Go' sale.. that'll take a while.