Visit Tetbury: Best places in town
- Credit: Archant
Traders are optimistic that the town will thrive despite everything that life throws at it
A huge bottle of Sir Winston Churchill’s favourite tipple, Pol Roger Champagne stands outside Vinotopia in The Chipping, Tetbury. Half of me wants to open it, watch the bubbles get set free and lift a toast to the economic health of this Royal Gloucestershire market town.
It’s a picture of how we have all been feeling in recent months – constrained and wanting to get out.
My eye is drawn to a phrase on Vinotopia’s window. It’s good to know that Napoleon Bonaparte backs me. He said this: “In victory, you deserve Champagne. In defeat you need it.”
Managing director of Vinotopia, Andy Cole says due to the size and shape of their shop, they can’t currently let customers in but online business has been really busy. There is now a bell outside for folk to ring so they can chat to Andy and the team in person, and many have been using their click and collect service. Andy is hoping that this will change in the coming weeks and they will be able to welcome people back into the shop very soon.
“We haven’t really stopped. The supermarkets focussed on stocking the essentials and wine wasn’t seen as an essential, so we have been flat out. We have never been busier. We have had new customers as well as our regular ones. The couriers have been fantastic,” says Andy.
“We don’t like hiding in the back waiting for the next order to ping in online. We want to see our customers. We are a hospitality-based business and we will be waiting for proper guidelines as to what we can and can not do.”
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Whilst they have lost out on key calendar gatherings such as Badminton, Gatcombe and village events – which they can not get back – they have been able to do some pop-up tastings outside the shop. They have also been encouraging people to buy a bottle of wine to donate to an NHS care worker. As a business they have been supporting the community such as providing wine to bin men, postmen, hospitals and care homes.
The day I visit, the town is very much in operation again. My last trip to this town was a visit to Tetbury Hospital for an X-ray on a broken heel. And as I walk around without boot or limp, my prayer is that this town will once again be back on its feet with fresh strength and boldness. Traders are optimistic and their positivity will have a huge part to play.
Tetbury’s new mayor Ann Pearce started her role in May during Lockdown. All her meetings were done virtually so the day non-essential shops started trading again, marked the first day she was physically seen in an official capacity. After town crier Tony Evans proudly shouted his “Oyez, oyez, oyez” from the steps of the Elizabethan town hall and declared that “Tetbury was officially open again,” Ann visited her local shop keepers. Whilst a handful remained open, many reopened their stores for the first time in three months.
“It was really lovely and it was quite a ceremony. We just wanted to spread the message that Tetbury was open for business and that we enthusiastically welcome visitors to come and walk around our beautiful town,” she explains.
Stephen Waddell who owns The Grocer on Church Street has kept trading throughout lockdown.
“It was crazy especially when people were panic buying and supermarkets were running out of lots of things. We were able to plug the gaps and have been selling things we don’t normally. It’s now become a bit of an Aladdin’s Cave. We were able to source eggs and flour from local suppliers,” says Stephen.
“We used to sell about a couple of bags of flour a week, then suddenly we were selling white and wholemeal flour by the sackful. It’s calmed down a bit now. Some people who have lived in Tetbury for years have come in here for the first time. We have definitely seen some new faces which has been good for us. Shopping in the bigger shops hasn’t been a pleasant experience for some and they have appreciated visiting a local shop without having to queue and still getting what they need. I do hope people stick with supporting their local businesses.”
Jenny and Philip Grant at House of Cheese, Church Street, had been hoping to retire in the not too distant future but, since the beginning of lockdown the business, which sells almost a hundred different kinds of cheese, has been so busy they haven’t been able to slow down.
“About 90-95% of our business is online, and it has been like having four Christmases in ten weeks - we have been getting up at 4am and working until 8pm to keep up with the orders. We could hardly believe how much cheese people were ordering,” says Jenny. “We were operating normally, but the business was on steroids!’
“My hope for Tetbury,” adds Jenny, “is that the town gets back to normal as soon as possible and that both visitors and residents are not afraid to come and shop as they would have done before.”
Even though the café culture isn’t quite as it was and hotels, restaurants and other eateries remain closed on the day I visit, many food and catering businesses have been creative in how they can operate. The Ormond, a Cotswold Coaching Inn with rooms has been selling take-way coffees, ice cream, baguettes, cakes, wine and beer from their outside pop-up store. And The Priory has turned from pub to food delivery service during lockdown, running a delivery box service and co-ordinating with local suppliers.
Tetbury is very much open for business, including the town’s famous Highgrove Shop and the community’s eclectic mix of antique, gift, clothing and home furnishing shops. There is much to experience and many specialist traders offer unique services.
Alexandra O’Brien owns Bay Gallery Home in Market Place, supporting Aboriginal artists living on Central Desert communities in the Northern Territory, Australia. The Gallery showcases their spellbinding, compelling and emotive work. Alexandra opened what is the UK’s only dedicated Aboriginal gallery five years ago and in collaboration with British manufacturers, has created a vibrant international award-winning interior design range called ‘My Country’, using original Aboriginal painting designs.
“It is the only Australian Aboriginal interior collection in the world and it has now made The List - House and Garden bringing Aboriginal interiors to world class interior designers. People are drawn to the colours and patterns and when I explain each piece’s creation myth, it takes them to another place.”
Each painting is multi-layered in terms of its meaning, structure, symbolic and spiritual significance. Within the canvas lies secret business that only the artist and their families are privy to. But what the eye sees is a feast of colour, celebrating and representing a culture and way of life in a land few of us get to see. The relationship and trust Alexandra has built with the people she represents, has enabled her to showcase something rare and special.
“This building is medieval, but what is fascinating is that where we are dates back to Neolithic where people 10,000 years ago would have been painting with ochres at the same time as the Aboriginals.
“I think that the town was already impacted by Brexit and I think people need to understand that. As people return, I hope they realise just how many independent businesses we have, each selling so many beautiful things. I do hope the sense of fear lifts and people will come into our shops again,” she says.
Keith Leaver, who owns The Tetbury Tailor and has been trading in the town for the past 10 years, is hopeful the business community will survive this latest knock.
“I am very positive that we will bounce back. People have been cooped up for months and they are just glad to get out again. I hope they will support their local town.”
The High Street has been through such a lot with the referendum, Brexit, the election and now the Coronavirus. We just want a stable platform.”
Whilst many businesses have an online service, shopkeepers are relieved to be able to open up their shops and speak to customers face to face again. Top Banana Antiques Mall, an online resource for antique and vintage pieces of furniture and interior decoration, was happy to welcome folk back into their shop in Tetbury. I spoke to staff there on their first day and had this response: “We have had a brilliant day, very busy and we were happy to be open. Over lockdown we have done very well on-line, but it was lovely to see our dealers and regular customers.”
Owned by Laurence and Alison White, Treacle George in Market Place, specialises in beautiful, uncommon, mysterious and delightful and well-designed home furnishings and accessories. Whilst their business can be done online, their Tetbury shop acts as a showroom so customers can see potential purchases in a home setting.
“We enjoy sitting alongside the interior and antique businesses because we are quite different,” says Laurence.
“I would like to pass on my very best wishes to everyone in business and I would ask people to keep supporting local shops whenever they can.”
Just before we leave Tetbury, my daughter and I enjoy a stroll around the town. There is definitely a positive buzz. Business life is up and running despite the restrictions and a sense that traders and customers are glad to be able to converse again in a non-virtual way! I am still tempted to open that huge bottle of champagne. But instead I will pop the cork virtually and toast Tetbury’s economic health.