Issue 2, Winter 2019

A Sense of Service - The Way We Were

By Kate Ford  |  19 Jan 2020  | 
The Corner Shop, Hindhead, c.1965 © The Francis Frith Collection

What does the past teach us about the value of the simpler ways of living? Before supermarkets and online shopping, daily trips were made by foot to the local corner store. Not only did you pick up everything you needed, but you also socialised with your neighbours, catching up on the latest news and gossip.

There was no rushing around a clinical warehouse-sized store struggling to find what we need amongst the myriad of choices that are offered in today's world. The traditional corner store was a place of unhurried orderliness. Staff provided a truly personal service, knowing the names of all their customers. “What can I do for you?” was the opening line of the encounter and it ended with a cheery “see you tomorrow”.

A delight to the senses

To a child, the colourful comic books and lines of jars with their treasure of delights were a joy to their youthful senses. They would watch with Pavlovian eagerness as the loose confections tumbled into the metal bowl of the weighing scales, hoping that the shopkeeper would allow them an extra bonbon over the quarter pound mark.

More often than not there was a bell on the door, emitting a reassuring sound that ensured your presence would be treated with friendliness and attentive service. A wheeled canvas shopping trolley, a sturdy and effective truly reusable invention, negated the need for carrier bags, plastic or otherwise. And there was no worrying about misshapen vegetables, because we knew they were fresh, tasteful and locally grown.

A connection to others

People enjoyed their time in their local shops because it brought with it a connection to others. Stories could be shared and information exchanged. If anyone was looking for a tradesperson to do a job, or even seeking new employment themselves, a wonderful chain of fruitful communication could be started, just by mentioning it to the store owner. These were one of the important community hubs that provided a central place for people of all ages. A place to congregate, a place to connect. A place that today’s world is sorely missing.

As we realise the impact our disconnection from one another is having on our health and enjoyment of life, we might wish to look at what we can learn from the modest ways of days gone by. In considering our everyday habits, we could take time to engage more with others during our day. Returning to those principles that promote community, togetherness and sharing, could be one of the solutions our society so desperately needs.