For years, I've been struggling to earn enough money to keep us afloat. Because of this, Bren has had to do what she can to fill the gap. From taking jobs as a cleaner, shop worker, care assistant, etc, and bringing home a second income, to spending three years doing a fine art and photography course for the loan money she'll never be rich enough to repay, to finally opening her own shop.
The enterprise was made possible because of something called the Empty Shops fund, a grant from central government to local authorities to help fill empty shops. This grant allowed Bren to spend money we wouldn't have otherwise have had on fixtures and fittings.
Bren put a huge amount of work into a business plan. As well as selling things made by local artists, she would also host craft workshops. If one thrived while the other languished, the shop could be reconfigured to suit the demand. She made a variety of projections - an optimistic forecast, a pessimistic forecast, and one somewhere between the two. She used her contacts in the local arts scene to source suppliers, and established the structures and protocols that would make things work.
In due course, she got a 3 year lease on a property on Seaview Road in Liscard. Not the main shopping area but one of the main roads close by, and itself lined with shops.
The shop opened with pomp and fanfare last may. The mayor cut the ribbon, and wished us all luck. Drinks were drank and cakes were eaten, and Bren settled down to a regular routine of 50 hour weeks, trying everything she could to make the shop look attractive to the passing trade.
And nothing she did was any use. Footfall is steady, but people just walk on by, or if they trouble to call in, they keep their money in their pockets. Her most pessimistic assessment was utterly, hopelessly optimistic.
Still, she persevered. Christmas would come and she would make a decent profit then, enough to tide us over through the leaner months ahead.
Christmas came, and it didn't. On a good day she would break even. The surge, what there was of it didn't continue into January.
People have reams of good advice but frankly, Bren has had enough. She wants out. And I want my wife back. It breaks my heart to see her work so hard for less than nothing.
She contacted her landlord, explaining that things were so bad that they could no longer continue, and asking for some kind of negotiated get out. We pay X months future rent up front and get out. The landlord gets a new tenant and is paid twice for the same space. If he can get a new tenant anyway.
The landlord has troubles of his own. The shop next door is vacant, and has been for a long time. The flats upstairs will soon be vacant. He suggests we use a letting agent to sublet the property, or that it would take a substantial sum of money to buy ourselves out of the lease.
So if we're stuck with the space, we're wondering how it can possibly be re-purposed.
It's currently trading as "Paper, Scissors Stone", a shop retailing the arts and crafts produced by local artists and craftspeople, and also offering workshops in various crafts, from photography to jewellery making
to scrapbooking. It has planning permission for the sale of cold foods and snacks, but not hot food. It's got a main front area that's spick and span, a back room and a kitchen with a toilet in a small room off it. It has a small back yard that can park a car.
So if you, dear reader, have any off beat suggestion as to what could be done with this space, please feel free to share them with me. I've had some vague notion that it could be used as some kind of high street presence for my driving school, but Bren thinks this is not a productive suggestion. She's thinking of using the space to produce craft items which she can then sell, perhaps using ebay or similar. Another idea is that she buys old furniture, and blings it up using the space as a carpentry/upholstery workshop.
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