By Judy Evans - 1st January 2020 6:09am
Reflections on 2019 — by Judy Evans, Williams of Audlem.
As we approach the end of our 157th year and into our 158th — it has been a year of real highs, mixed with some significant lows.
The year started on a sad note, with the death of my father and Williams' former owner, Derek Mckelvey. Although it was anticipated, it was of course a big loss both personally, and to our business. Derek was a 'shop fixture' along with my mother, Megan for over 50 years. Although Salford (Lancs.) born & bred, he took to village life, like a duck to the River Irwell ! An accomplished & mountaineer of the 1950's era, Derek still found a home on the flat plains of Cheshire. Derek continues to leave his mark on the village, if only through the householders on Mckelvey Way, relentlessly having to spell out his name for delivery drivers, form fillers and utility providers etc (good luck guys I had thirty years of it myself !)
As any high street shopkeeper will tell you things were increasingly tough on the high street in 2019, so our business has been taking positive approach, and upping our game. This year we attended the national trade fairs, in Birmingham, with renewed vigour and enthusiasm, and with a sharp eye for new products and suppliers. We also travelled up to the Home & Gift Fair in Harrogate, for the first time in twenty years !
In May we were regional finalists at the national Progressive Home and Gifts awards attending the finals at The Grosvenor, Park Lane London where we were enormously proud to put Audlem on the map as North West and N.Ireland regional winners ! An Oscar for Audlem — we were thrilled to accept. As a direct result, our business enjoyed the 'limelight' from both industry suppliers, and trade magazine writers, many of whom have been very keen to engage with us on our success.
Throughout the year, environmentally friendly products have been a key area in which we have expanded our range — from bamboo coffee mugs, re-usable shopping bags, paper straws, vegan &eco -friendly soaps (including shampoo/conditioner soaps), metal water bottles, and eco- friendly stationery. Our plans are to keep expanding this range ever further, for 2020.
On a similar note, in 2019, we made the switch to paper bags, and the majority of our British dairies milk, is now supplied in glass bottles. Added to this we have joined the national scheme to refill water bottles with tap water, for free, and I am pleased to report that we are now officially a collection point for recycling empty crisp packets !
We've also been supporting local artists with some terrific new card ranges, Audlem calendars, and local scene prints.
Another new initiative this year has been ( with the exception of the British Legion Poppy Appeal), that we have switched all our charity collection boxes, from national causes, to village based charities such as church & chapel restoration funds , ADAS and Turnpike Field — and are hoping to add the local primary school to this list soon.
In August we were very sad to learn of the passing of my grandparents', and parents', stalwart shop assistant, Miss Jean Minshall. Jean served in our shop from the age of 14, from the 1940s, until she retired in her late sixties. Jean was so much more than a shop assistant — she was an integral part of the Audlem community, much treasured & adopted member of our family, and a surrogate Aunty to so many other children in the village — many of whom were lucky enough to receive the end products of her award winning knitting skills ! Our business will always be enormously grateful for her dedicated service behind the counter. RIP Jean.
Both Jean and my father featured, with myself (and other family members and staff), on BBC's The Repair Shop programme (episode 11 series 2) first broadcast in 2018. This episode documented the repair of our old till. In 2019 the programme enjoyed several repeat showings in the UK, and this time was also broadcast in several other countries — notably in both Australia, and in the USA. As a result, we have continued to receive many wonderful messages of support and interested visitors, from all over the world, and it has been a delight to have gained such global attention for the cash register, that was purchased by my Great Grandfather, George Williams, in 1913!
Autumn marked the start of steady build up to Christmas, after an usually quiet tourist season. That said, in October we did have the pleasure of, what has now almost become an annual event; a tour bus of Americans -organised by former Audlem resident (and good friend) Abigail Bonell, who now resides in Utah. Audlem put out a special Stars & Stripes welcome for the US visitors, and we very much enjoyed providing them with a classic English village experience — no doubt , contrasting sharply with their other city stops of London, Stratford, Chester, and Edinburgh etc !
During 2019, we also made a few more changes to the fixtures in the shop, with some hand built 'antique style' cabinets — as getting suitable old ones, has proved to be too much of a challenge. We also had 2 out of 3 of our window bases replaced with old maple flooring which came from a former mill in North Cheshire. This is all part of our wider 'retro' renovation scheme, which we will continue with in 2020. I would to express our gratitude to our carpenter Dave, and resident builder Michael, for all their amazing work in assisting with our shop's transition.
The Big Switch On in November this year continues to be the successful event that was instigated initially by Audlem Traders, and now running smoothly, and bigger & better than ever, by ADAS. Additionally this year Audlem Traders put a toe in the water, for a new event "Super Santa Saturday" — the day after the Switch On. For this event we were lucky enough to have the amazing princess "Elsa" from Frozen in our store for the day — our 'meet & greet' with Elsa proved to be a great new attraction. We are hoping to repeat this in 2020.
Finally Christmas 2019 has come and gone and we have to say a big thank you to the whole village for your support — it was especially heart-warming to learn from our customers, that so many people had specifically made a point of shopping local this Xmas, — and thus giving the high street in Audlem a much needed boost. A shop is not a shop, without its customers — and let us be quick to acknowledge; "we didn't get where we are today" without YOU the customer, over the past couple of centuries!
We would also like to thank our hard working staff for tirelessly working all days of the week, and at all times of the day, to serve behind the counter, and/ or deliver our newspapers — they are the cogs in our wheels, and without whom we would surely grind to a halt.
May I finish my review by wishing everyone, both near and far, not only a 'Happy New Year', but a 'Happy New Decade' as well ! Here's to you all in our 158th year of trading ! Cheers !
Tuesday 11th Aug
Monday 10th Aug
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