If this year has proved anything, it’s that it’s more important than ever to shop local and support our independent stores.
Emily Pringle has been running Notes of Northumberland since 2017. Initially an online and wholesale business, she opened a retail shop in Alnwick in July 2018. Emily says that this year in particular, there’ve been plenty of sleepless nights worrying over the business. ‘I am a bit of a control freak and like to be prepared for every eventuality, so this has been very difficult,’ she explains. ‘We can’t plan ahead at all, as since the end of January we haven’t known what was around the corner.’
Notes of Northumberland’s online business was able to continue to operate during lockdown, but as it was the only part of the business still running, staff still had to be furloughed – leaving Emily and her husband to pick up the slack, making products and sending out orders. This was particularly difficult because they have two young children, who, Emily says, weren’t very happy about having to go to work. ‘It also made home schooling a nightmare,’ she continues. ‘That said, we were lucky, at least we had some revenue.’
With people unable to leave their homes to visit relatives for special occasions (including Mother’s Day and Easter), Emily decided to offer handwritten gift tags for online orders. ’This meant that customers could add a gift message at checkout, so they could send gifts to loved ones without leaving their homes. ‘I found it quite emotional, writing customers’ gift messages to loved ones. Everybody so desperately missing their friends and families, with such loving messages for each other, brought me to tears on more than one occasion. I also think during initial lockdown there was a real Dunkirk spirit, there was a nice atmosphere and everybody was working together to make it work. It seemed to bring out the best in people.’
This included Emily’s customers, from whom she says she’s received amazing support throughout the year. ‘Customers have chosen to shop local and support local businesses rather than large companies,’ she says.
Since lockdown started to ease in the summer, Alnwick has seen a massive (and largely welcome) surge in visitors. ‘Initially I think customers avoided going in to city centres to avoid public transport and built up areas. I think this has opened customers’ eyes to what is available on their local high street, which is great for us,’ says Emily. ‘With travel abroad becoming almost impossible, people have chosen to have ‘staycations’ and where better than the Northumberland coast?’
Looking ahead to Christmas, Emily is struggling to make plans. ‘We are being careful not to make too much Christmas stock in case we are closed down – nobody wants their homes to smell of clementine, cinnamon and clove in January after all.’ Following successful Christmas shopping events last year, this year the shop’s Christmas atmosphere will be very different, with appointment-only slots and a fraction of the numbers of customers. But it’s certainly not all doom and gloom. Customers are clearly wary of another lockdown, and are choosing to be prepared. ‘They are making sure they have all of their gifts so that if we do lock down, they have everything they need.’
Notes of Northumberland
Fenkle Street, Alnwick
What other independents should we check out near you?
We are next door to a gorgeous chocolate shop which is way too handy! Across the road there is Turnbull’s Northumbrian Food, perfect for those Christmas treats. There is Taste of Northumbria in the Market Place that sells locally-produced food and drink and, around the corner, Clayport Jewellers – a small shop but with lots of choice, and they engrave in house which is fab. I always find men most difficult to buy for so we love having Hotspur 1364 on our street which sells a range of designer menswear and accessories.
Yorkshire puddings with Christmas dinner – yes or no?
Definitely a no from me.
Best place in the North East for a Boxing Day walk?
Hulne Park in Alnwick is our usual Boxing Day Walk.