Sunday, June 16, 2019

SHERINGHAM DIARY 27 - The Sinkholes of Paucity and Positivity

Since we signed the lease and got the keys, its been shop, shop, shop, shop ,shop. You've seen the photos. The shop fit itself was physically demanding on both of us. Every week we thought ' maybe now the intense weather will ease' but only the wind direction changed. Plus one too many middle of the night flurries of anxiety, not directly shop related, but manifesting through something a way distant from it or of trivial significance. Once the refit was complete and Cottonwood Home was open our daily lifestyle morphed chameleon like into something both familiar and unfamiliar.

A really good weekends trading can be followed by unpredictable week days. As yet there appears no rhyme nor reason whether its tumbleweed or customers whisking through our door. This has the potential to freak us out a bit, if we let unrestrained mental proliferation get a grip. It's become a regular practise to disengage mood and sense of well being from the shops daily sales, otherwise it will be positivity when good, paucity when bad. That way madness lies. At the moment town seems subdued, what with the poor weather, the ever expanding sinkhole and perhaps a Brexit infused mood of depression that's draining wallets and purses of confident optimism. Anyway. one of our first lessons has been you don't open the door and hey presto, it just works, you have to work hard at building any business. That process will undoubtedly be ongoing and at times emotionally testing.

Previous tenants of our unit said they did two thirds of there business through stuff they had on show outside. All The Courtyard stores do do the same. We've devised a plan for outside displays of lower price point items to lure folk into the shop, hoping to pull this together over the next few weeks. But in the meantime we're endeavouring to keep our feelings in check and out of any mental sinkholes we might encounter. Our shop fit makes us look higher end than we actually are, but apart from selling stuff with hare prints on, beach huts, seagulls or seahorses, throwing a dishevelled carpet down and being more chaotic in our merchandising, there's not much to be done about that. We are what we are, what we need to do is convince more people that what we are is for them too. All the stores in our mall when they started out only covered their costs in their first year, so our short term aim is to at least do that.

We are slowly getting home back to being tidier and cleaner, plus attending to all the other things that fell into neglect whilst we were focused on shopfitting.We decided initially to open the shop seven days a week just to see what custom was actually like. Ten days or so in, we'd become so emotionally frayed we decided we just had to take a regular day off together.  We settled on our provisional opening hours and will be closed on Mondays. One of the things that's clear from observing other shopkeepers in The Courtyard is that your opening hours can be treated as a flexible arrangement, close early if and when you feel the need too. For our first day off we travelled to Lavenham and Bury St Edmunds, for no other reason than a change of scenery. It was the first of the endless torrential rain days, everywhere we went was drenched, as were we.  The bliss of freedom can simultaneously also feel foolhardy.

It started like this

Quiet little Sheringham has acquired a sinkhole slap bang in the middle of the High Street. Its hard to tell if its affected trade our end of town, but either side of 't' ole' it has halved the shops takings their. Two shops can't open at all and you really feel for them, as the date by which the hole problem will be resolved keeps moving further away, engulfing the profitable summer season trade. Initially the road signage was lacking and visitors were confused where to go. When the signage did arrive it was a bit OTT and gave the impression the whole town was closed to traffic, which it wasn't. It has now settled down to informative but sensible. The Town Council has launched a push with the backing of Norfolk daily newspapers to publicise that Sheringham is open for business, I'm not sure that this will be effective or what is really needed.
Its now like this

Meanwhile the size of the cavernous sinkhole, if we are to believe the melodramatic newspaper reports, is ever expanding. We've yet to hear the survey results as to the cause and who is responsible. At the moment officials are being extremely circumspect, fearing the hell of attributing liability prematurely. But you can't claim for loss of business until someone is found to be at fault. In the meantime retailers hold onto a wing of positivity with the hope the hole and the hole in their finances will be plugged soon.

Recent recurring night time worries have included :~ Nigel Farage becoming Prime Minister, homosexuality being criminalised, feebly railing against Brexit and where the hell we are heading as a country. Credible political options ignored, the staggering lack of flexibility, imagination and vision etc etc. I also had a recurring dream of people I know in the Triratna Buddhist Order accusing me of betrayal and treachery. Quite what that's about I haven't quite fathomed, but we were coming up to the first anniversary of my resigning from the Order at the beginning of June. I've just parked that in a convenient lay by for now.

I've been reading about the history of Walsingham as a place of pilgrimage. This book by Micheal Rear is the best written and most comprehensive I've read. Like most books on the subject it inevitably veers away from historical fact into Christian theological and devotional issues which I do find a bit baffling.  But I have learnt a bit about Anglo Catholicism and the The Oxford Movement, of which the revival of veneration and pilgrimages to Our Lady Of Walsingham is a significant achievement of.  Though I think I've read enough about Walsingham and Our Lady for now.

Our Lady of Walsingham

Its still unclear what the significance of my response to this figure is or what its pointing towards. Perhaps I do not need to fully know, the figure of Our Lady exists primarily on the level of myth, not rational logic. I have noticed iconographic similarities between Our Lady of Walsingham and the Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha. Each has a staff symbolic of purity and sovereignty in the right hand and holding a symbol of wisdom, Christ or a Chintamani, cupped in the left hand. She is seated on a throne of wisdom, he on a lotus throne the symbol of Enlightenment. Her throne is placed on top of a 'toadstone' a symbol for the evil which she has conquered. His sits upon a symbolised version of a mound of Kusha grass, a traditional meditation seat where he has conquered mental defilements. The uprights of her throne have seven rings on them that represent the seven sacraments or practises of Catholicism. He holds a monks staff which bears six rings to represent the six perfections/practises of a Buddhist, for any Bodhisattva dedicated to saving all sentient beings.

The mythic background of Ksitigarbha is interesting as the only Buddhist archetype that moved from originally being a female figure to becoming a male one. There is an echo of this in that one of Ksitigarbha's epithets is still Earth Womb. This feminine original is referred to as the Sacred Girl, who goes into the hell realms in order to save her mother but ends up vowing to save all beings from suffering. This act of reaching down in order to save is traditionally represented in Buddhist iconography by the left foot stepping onto a lotus blossom. Devotions to Our Lady often focus on her role as the vessel or route to salvation, the go between, as intermediary between Heaven and Hell on Earth, and vice versa. Such salvific acts of compassion are a theme that Ksitigarbha shares with Our Lady of Walsingham. So there it is, for what its worth. This of course may all be cock.


Saturday, June 01, 2019


So we are finally open. Whilst we've been anxious in advance of experience about whether our stock would sell, it would appear we need not have exercised our worry muscles quite so assertively. The 1st of June was a hot day in Sheringham where most of the visitors headed for the beach, passing our now infamous sinkhole. All the other retailers in our courtyard said it was a quiet day as a result, but for our first day we felt it went really well. Though we didn't know what to expect, it exceeded our cautious expectations.  

I took these photographs at the end of the day just before we closed. We really did have customers honest, these weren't taken on slow exposure to eradicate all sign of human life, its just I didn't want to appear intrusive or inappropriate.

We've had lots of local people coming in just to see what the shop looks like and they've been very encouraging. Now we actually have a shop it brings renewed impetus to our making. Even when the shop is quiet we can still be knitting or crocheting something. There is a sense of something having lifted now we are no longer making items in a vacuum.

Jnanasalin 'a crocheting'

Lovely flowers from family

An offering of sweets and biscuits for our customers

The back of our window display

Jnanasalin closing our very high Velux 

COTTONWOOD SHOP REFIT ~ 4th Week ~ Countdown to Opening

Our last day of shop fitting. Fixing up our feature display unit, card shelves and rack for wrapping paper. In a way its a bit of a relief to be finishing all this prep side, so tomorrow we can get on with the real business of a retail shop fit ~ the stock

It took three car trips to get all the stock into the shop. Once we'd unpacked a few boxes you could hardly move for discarded packaging. For day one of merchandising we've done very well, the basic blocking of the stock layout has been completed.

We are beginning to get a sense of what works and doesn't work on our shelving. Less is more being generally the case here. We aren't high end but we're not bargain basement either. So giving stock enough space will be important for us to maintain.

It's obvious today that apart from cushions and the stock we've bought in, we have no back up stock for some items that we've made. One of our middle of the night anxieties about this retail venture is being able to make items fast enough to keep up with sales without sacrificing quality. But first we need to get a sense for what sells and how quickly. Still loads to be done. A window display, price labelling, setting up the till, jewellery stands to be made up, etc etc etc.

I spent the morning putting in the window display using our 'gansey styled' cushion range. The photographs don't quite capture how good it looks. Meanwhile Jnanasalin was setting up all the stock on the till system. After dinner I went home to do work in the workshop on frames for some lovely prints we have. I'm not a hugely confident framer, but I am very pleased with the quality of the results.

Our last day before we open to the general public. Almost ready, just pricing and final tweaking, plus all those little things that support the running of a shop that don't surface until you are almost there, or actually open, and you realise you need a cleaning and tool kit etc. The pricing went quite smoothly, and brings that finishing touch to 'a shop'. We've done our best but not everything in the shop has the best sales position on this time around, but we'll get there.

It feels great to finally get everything that doesn't need to be there, not just off the floor, but returned to home. Its been quite testing to my equanimity when I'm in the workshop and realise the tool I need is in the shop, or vice versa. It goes without saying, that we're both very pleased with how the shop looks. We've had a lot of appreciative and encouraging comments in person and online. If we let go of our anxiety there is a certain excitable air that takes flight about how it all will go on the 1st June, my god that's tomorrow.

Everything packed & ready to go home

Saturday, May 25, 2019

COTTONWOOD SHOP REFIT ~ 3rd Week ~ A Shop Taking Form

After making the shop fit for purpose, comes the shop fittings. Lets just say a lot of unpacking and assembling has gone on.  We've both passed our IKEA Assembly Proficiency Level 4, so we found these relatively straight forward. The Till Counter arrived, followed on successive days by shelving and our signage created and installed by Graphic Edge. The shop has limited space for storage, so we've bought IKEA storage units. Always impressed by the ingenious nature of flat pack assembly. These ones required no bolts or locking devices and were simply pressed together in a matter of minutes

Signage being installed

'The Monolith' is no more. After the agony entailed in my making it fast became redundant once we re-thought our floor layout. All the messy meters, switches and wires are now hidden behind a 7ft high hinged door that we made, covered in a piece of stunning Scion fabric that we picked up in Matlock Bath for less than a third the RRP. Result.

By the end of next week we'll be open for business. We're already a bit nervous about how the things we've made will all go down in Sheringham, but lets just wait and see.

Friday, May 17, 2019

COTTONWOOD SHOP REFIT ~ 2nd Week ~ Grafting Requires Persistence

Week Two started with us a few days ahead of the planned schedule. Painting the walls with Farrow & Ball Pavilion Grey No242 began to give a better feel for the shop as a space. The interior paintwork has a fiddly detailed door and window structure, proving quite a job and a half. Endeavouring to cover its dark green paintwork required two coats of undercoat before glossing could even commence. We laid laminate flooring in and under the window. Lighting strips were installed for us. All bar one of our orders placed in Harrogate arrived and they all look as good as we remembered. I made a cover to hide some rather ugly meters which is now referred to as 'The Monolith'. Its been hard graft after hard graft, with us sleep deprived but indominatable. We finished the week with a day of clearing up and cleaning as next week the shop fittings start arriving. Woo woo!

Blue masking removed from windows

Stage One
Stage Two

Stage Three

The Monolith

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

COTTONWOOD SHOP REFIT - 1st Week ~ The Removal of Ghastly Things

The refit of our new shop in The Courtyard, Sheringham is progressing well. We are ahead of our planned timescale. We started painting walls at the end of last week before the May Bank Holiday. After removing dozens of raw plugs, filling in the holes and removing a ghastly strip of wallpaper, we have spent ages getting the walls to be an even tone of white. Plus acquiring neck ache.

Colour swatch for new wall colour