Janet Street-Porter has been writing about Whitstable again.
The bulk of her column in Saturday’s i-newspaper was about the new chief executive of John Lewis, Sharon White, the first black woman to run a large UK retail business, and the future of High Street retailing in the UK, given the threat posed by on-line rivals.
Her mention of Whitstable is towards the end and follows on from a paragraph about the growth of the luxury sector – up by 50% in four years, apparently – and a reference to the fact that many of these luxury retailers operate out of “small boutiques in premium places.”.
This is when our town gets a mention.
“In a small town like Whitstable in Kent, for example, tourists flock to walk up and down a High Street lined with small retailers,” she writes.
I wonder which shops she’s referring to exactly? Whitstable seems swamped by coffee shops and Co-ops these days.
Meanwhile a number of the independent shops are either already closed, or are about to close.
Herbaceous has gone. Pet’s Pantry has gone. Kites and Things has gone. I wonder how many more are under threat?
These were amongst the most significant, unique, quirky and unusual shops to grace this, or any other High Street in the country.
Herbaceous carried wholefoods, incense, Buddhist paraphernalia, stained glass window hangings, herbs, spices, eco-friendly washing up liquid and bamboo socks, amongst other things.
I used to swear by those bamboo socks. They were soft, comfortable, hard-wearing and with anti-bacterial properties that meant you could wear them for days on end without them becoming smelly.
Herbaceous wasn’t just a shop. It was the hub and social centre of the Oxford Street community. Belinda, the proprietor, likes to chat. People would pop in there to spend the time of day, to talk about their troubles, or to get advice on herbal remedies, which she would dispense with jolly alacrity.
Talk about retail therapy. In Belinda’s case this was literally true.
The other shop I used to enjoy was Kites and Things. I used to love looking in their window at all the strange gadgets they had on display.
I bought a chaos pendulum from there once. It was in the form of a frog dangling from a rod over an electromagnet.
Unlike a normal pendulum, which is only subject to two forces – gravity and momentum – and whose movement is entirely predictable, the additional force of the magnet (and the opposing magnet in the base of the frog) meant that its movement was chaotic and unpredictable. It never repeated the same movement twice.
Unfortunately it was also very irritating and I had to dismantle it in the end. I lost all the parts when I moved house.
I’ve also bought a “Demon Dentist” wooden construction kit, a flying monkey that screams through the air, a squidgy ball that stuck to walls and two dinosaur glove puppets.
How many shops do you know that carry that kind of stock?
Well Herbaceous is moving to a shed in Teynham, from where Belinda hopes to run a mobile herbalist working the festivals, and Kites and Things is now in the Harbour, so we’ve not seen the last of them yet. We’ll have to see how they fare in the future.
What’s certain is that our High Street is poorer for their loss, and that no amount of luxury boutiques, coffee shops or Co-ops can ever hope to replace them.
Whitstable was once famed for the diversity of its High Street. Not for much longer I fear.
From The Whitstable Gazette 13/06/19
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