Oliver Cross: When small beats super

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THIS week, on a day-out to Otley with my partner Lynne, I strolled into a shop that sold, among other things, second-hand books, sweets, antiques, chutney and candyfloss.

Although ‘sold’ might have been a bit of a misrepresentation in relation to the candyfloss; the shop lady had recently bought a candyfloss machine on the internet and hadn’t quite mastered it.

A small group of teenage schoolboys walked in and, like juniors from The Apprentice, discussed its business potential.

I’m not sure what happened next because, unlike certain other journalists I could mention, I don’t like intruding on private lives and my hearing is lousy.

But I think the shop lady, after deciding her novice candyfloss stick was worth no more than 5p, was persuaded to bring the price down to nothing at all, leaving everybody, particularly the schoolboys, with a very positive view of capitalism.

And my point is? Well, that this could only happen in Otley or somewhere like it, bigger towns and cities being collections of soulless multiple retailers and banks (and, in Leeds at least, lap dancing clubs), surrounded by a sea of takeaways and beauty salons.

I mean, I’ve never needed to buy a coal scuttle, but I’ve always been reassured by the knowledge that, should the need arise, I would be able to find one in an underlit hardware shop just off the high street somewhere in small-town Britain, although I would have to ask the shopkeeper to find it for me, because it would be hidden beneath a mass of strange objects (such as fork handles) arranged according to a system known only to the Guild of Antiquated Ironmongers.

The only high street equivalent is the excellent Wilkinson hardware chain, whose shops smell – well, maybe only to me – of the 1970s and string.

I’m not sure what their procurement policy is; they do sell fish food, glue, seeds, notepads, mouth ulcer preparations, batteries and garden forks, but I don’t know whether they also sell greetings cards, reading glasses, steak tenderisers, staplers or nasal hair trimmers.

I mean, Wilco’s is quite unfathomable and that’s its glory – it turns shopping into an adventure, which is very much more than you can say of Tesco.

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