Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Esmeralda's Flopsies

I had to smile when browsing through the small ads in a knitting mag today: one of the shops is called "Withit Witch". Is it me, or does that name sound incredibly 60s/70s-ish?

It reminds me of some of the names of local boutiques in the 70s. Bear in mind that I grew up in a sleepy market town (King's Lynn) on the edge of the Fens, so excitement was HUGE when boutiques (as opposed to Richards, Dorothy Perkins and Etam) opened. First came Emma's, which doesn't sound like a very novel name. But soon it was joined by a shop for men, called "Emma's Mate". I loved that, especially as the word "mate" carried slightly rude overtones (ooh, they're mating...").

This was quickly rivalled by "Man's World", memorable only for the truly hideous men they had in their cinema ad. Meanwhile, I saved up all my wages (25p/hour as Saturday girl in Cale's hairdresser) to spend either in Bayes Recordium or in Doves, which had wonderful smocks and dresses with leg-o-mutton sleeves and corduroy skirts, all printed with art nouveau-inspired florals, or medieval-looking beasties. Doves seems such a "love and peace" name, but actually came from the location of their other branch: Dove Street in Norwich.

But best of all was, "Esmeralda's Flopsies". I never did go in (perhaps put off by my mother's scathing comment: "who on earth wants to dress in a flopsy?") but, oh, what a name.

Sometimes I daydream about running my own retail business. The ideas always seem to be influenced by punning names. First (and we're talking 1982 here) came the idea for a mobile wholefood shop (which would tour the back lanes of rural Norfolk), to be called "Rosy Future": the promise of good health for all who purchased from it and my name--albeit spelt slightly differently--to satisfy my ego. Can you see the fatal flaw in this plan: just how many homes are there in rural Norfolk where the inhabitants are at home all day and don't have access to the wholefood shops or delicatessens of Diss/Sheringham/Burnham Market? (This last must be the second homes capital of the UK!) More recent ideas have included an upmarket fairtrade/organic/ethical brands gift/booze/fashion store to be called "Ethics Girls." Say it aloud, see if it doesn't remind you of an alleged tribe of white-sandal wearing permatanned women who dance around their handbags. The trouble is, I suspect that the name might repel the wealthier among the Cambridge undergrads, who would have been my target market.

But the sad truth is that retail space in Cambridge is incredibly expensive. The city that bred Andy's Records (motto: "purveyor of fine music at cheapo prices") is now in grave danger of becoming a clone town*. And with the imminent opening of The Grand Arcade--my idea of a nightmare: a roofed in expanse of wall-upon-wall of so-called "exclusive" brands ie retail chains with aggresive marketing, designer logos and big price labels, --I'm beginning to wonder how smaller, independant shops can survive unless they, too, target the luxury (more money than sense) market. (I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry at a quote on the arcade's website: "Grand Arcade is not just an exciting and modern addition to the Cambridge retail offer, but fundamentally transforms and reinvigorates it.")

So, for now at least, I'm delighting in the punning name of our local yarn shop ("Sew Creative" is, well, so creative!) and I'm longing for the innovative and innocent days of Esmeralda's Flopsies!

*King's Lynn has turned into a bargain-hunters paradise, surely there are more pound stores per square kilometer than anywhere else in the world?)

ps I have a plethora of FOs (albeit mainly crocheted twirly scarves) that I must photgraph...


jayne said...

I couldn't agree more, Rosie. Wherever you go in England, the High street is identical to the previous one - no individuality, no choice! Small independant specialist shops are being priced out of the market and it's such a shame!
I was apalled last weekend to see that a new outlet in Ely is destined to become yet another cafe! How many does a city the size of Ely need? Bring back the days of Esmerald's flopsies, I say!

Heather said...

Those names are just fantastic! I hope the new Grand Arcade wont be as awful as predicted.

Scarlet said...

what can i say, except i agree. Does anyone remember our independent cinema, The Victoria(which had a table space invaders machine! totally fab! when did you last see one of those?), which faced proudly onto the market square in Cambridge? And was bought out by M&S when the large mulitplex at the grafton centre forced it into closing. And Barneys, the little quirky mens clothing store that was next door to it.

Anonymous said...

We had 'Annabel's Togs' here in Bury St Edmunds in the 60s and 70s, which closed down before I was old enough to shop there. Sadly.