Official High Street retail sales figures paint a bleak picture. The BBC reported that non-food sales fell by a whopping 71.4% in April alone. That said, local businesses are refusing to lie down and take it. Many have been nothing short of Herculean in their efforts to fight for survival and serve this beautiful city of ours.
Forced to adapt and diversify, the ingenuity shown by many local businesses has been remarkable. And we, the citizens of Edinburgh, have been doing our best to support them. We've been seeking out the things we feel we need to get us through these extraordinary times, essentials and luxuries alike.
But what have we been buying? I reached out to a large group of Edinburghers to find out and the results were fascinating.
Early on in lockdown, practical considerations were key. We sought out products and services to make working from home possible, plus things to keep the kiddos amused while we tried to do it. Many reported buying arts and crafts supplies along with laptops, headphones and home office furniture. We also splurged on fancy coffee makers to replace the Starbucks run and pretty notice boards and house plants to improve our new workspace.
I spoke to Mae Douglas, owner of independent Stockbridge stationery shop The Write Stuff. She told me that printer paper and ink cartridges were in high demand. With no access to the office stationery cupboard, customers can order from The Write Stuff and take delivery a few hours later. Quicker than even the mighty Amazon. Mae has also seen demand soar for children's supplies - colourful window markers and pavement chalk being top sellers along with school jotters!
It's long been acknowledged that we humans often try to self-soothe with food and drink at times of stress. Bars and restaurants have been among the hardest hit during this pandemic and have had to reinvent themselves to survive. It seems that we can't get enough of their new offerings and are supporting them by splurging on a variety of delicious foodie treats. Whether it's an amazing grazing box, full of locally sourced produce from SprEHd or a full 'at home' restaurant experience from Wedgwood, luxury food treats are high on our list. As for alcohol, cosy cocktail nights in and sommelier standard wine tastings around the kitchen table have become the norm and we need to stock the bar in preparation!
I spoke to Miguel Crunia, General Manager of wine bar The Green Room in William Street. Miguel told me that they initially closed for three weeks before launching their delivery and collection service. While it's been an enormous challenge, Miguel says they've enjoyed the opportunity to get to know their neighbours in the heart of Edinburgh's West End by keeping them supplied with wine. Their campaign hashtag #dontrunoutofwine says it all. Priding themselves on being able to offer a more personalised service, they can tailor a suggested menu to their customer's own taste. Who knew that a wine tasting masterclass via Zoom would be a popular activity for spring 2020? That's just one way Miguel and his team at The Green Room have been able to connect with their customers and deliver even more value to their growing tribe.
We've been splashing the cash on our homes and gardens too. Disappointment over cancelled holidays could be the main driving factor plus some extra funds from having no commuting costs or nursery/dog walker/hairdresser to pay. We're buying decorating supplies, soft furnishings and accessories. Whether it's new bed linen or a couple of cushions, we've been freshening our space this spring.
Aveline Evans, the owner of Halidon Home in Stockbridge, told me that new customers have been delighted to discover her shop while out on their daily walks. As the shop is currently closed, they've been contacting her to buy things they've seen displayed in the window. Faux flowers, candles and diffusers have been especially popular.
Renae Bell, owner of ceramics pottery Yellow Door Studio, told me she's been very busy with orders for custom dinnerware. Creating micro-events, just for our household to enjoy, has been a big trend in recent weeks. Whether it's the aforementioned cocktail night or a special dinner for two, we've been buying glassware, dinnerware, decorations and accessories to make it special.
With an increased focus on getting outdoors, we've been buying plants, lawnmowers and greenhouses along with garden furniture, pizza ovens, children's garden games and one Edinburgh resident reported buying a floating duck house! It's often said that gardening is a lesson in optimism and many have embraced this wholeheartedly. We've loved buying seeds and watching them grow. While slow, and requiring enormous patience, it seems to fit with our pace of life just now.
The early weeks, especially, saw us focusing on others. We bought little gifts and flowers to deliver to family and friends, treats to let them know we cared. Known as 'prosocial' behaviour, we know this act of 'taking voluntary action to benefit another' has a huge impact on our own wellbeing. Sheona, from Edinburgh, told me she spent way more than usual on Easter treats for family and friends and she doesn't regret a thing. Often delivered without a note to say she was the sender, the feel-good factor, she declared, was worth every last penny.
And what of all those self-care packages, the little things we've bought just for us? Studies have shown that when we buy ourselves a treat, we feel energised. Putting ourselves first now and then can really strengthen our mental resilience, our ability to bounce back. And as we continue to navigate these strange times, that's something we all need.
Lynn McMurray is the founder and owner of independent home and gift business The Seasonal Touch. The store is known for its unique, quality products which are sustainably sourced from independent UK makers wherever possible.Contact the author
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