Recessions leave indelible marks on people’s lives. Like a too-tight grip on your wrist, once removed it leaves angry impressions that take their time in fading. Every month the tentatively optimistic reports that the the Big R is slowly fading away from the tiny island with the not-so tiny debts gradually increase.
We listen, but are loathe to start spending again. The marks left on the international psyche as a result of the economic downturn have yet to soften.
This has resulted in a new generation of cautious shoppers. By cautious, I don’t mean miserly, because these shoppers spend big money – but mostly in established high street and bargain chains. Nor do I mean that they are shoppers in search of classic, well-made pieces that will last forever. These shoppers need to be trendy – and they do it very well on the cheap.
They can easily rack up big credit card bills or take out loans to buy designer goods; mostly handbags or shoes. It might be expensive, but a black Alexander Wang bag will go with everything. So will that McQueen skull scarf. Accessories, especially bags, have become the bread-and-butter of many designer brands.
With that in mind, small independent boutiques have to work extra-hard to bring in new customers and redefine their shops not just as a place to buy clothes, but as a legitimate fashion destination.
Two shops that come to mind in Cork City are Turquoise Flamingo, a vintage clothing store and Amity, a women’s boutique. Both are in the city centre and rely on a trade of devoted customers who spread the news about their goods via word of mouth and ever-omnipresent facebook and twitter networks.
Amity is a girly dream, with racks of flirty dresses and separates set against a backdrop of quirky papered walls, exposed wooden floors and vintage-inspired housewares and trinkets. Turquoise Flamingo is a nook-and-cranny place stuffed with vintage finds , with a vinyl-playing turntable always at the ready. Both shops have comfy chairs and magazines in case you need a break. Similarly, the owners of both shops are friendly, knowledgeable and not liable to give you the evil side eye if you stray for too long without purchasing.
It’s an enlivening antidote to online shopping. We may love the thrill of the chase of eBay or the bargainous finds on Etsy, but there’s no-one to ask if something is a large or small fit, or if that dress really suits you, or if a seller might have something that you might like but haven’t seen yet.
There’s no comfy chairs online, no record player wafting out and irony-free Nana Mouskouri. Online, no-one will offer you a cup of tea, make great local shopping recommendations without prodding or brighten up your bad day with a un-PC anecdote.
We, the cautious shoppers, should continue to visit these destinations and others like them. The real scars of a recession are not the marks left on us, but the rows of boarded-up shops and empty lets mouldering away on streets in every town centre. If we want to minimise that scarring, we should re-evaluate what makes us cautious and reinforce our support for local businesses.