The visit with my chum last Friday had another good result. In the course of conversation, we realised that Al needs another Saturday staff member, and he has teenage daughters. A word from me to Al, from chum to daughters, and one of them called in this afternoon to enquire, and the job is hers.
I’d be happy to go in on alternate Saturdays indefinitely, but I’m not really a substitute for a paid member of staff. I think of myself as a filler-in for holidays, illness or to give Al time off. In addition, his regular Saturday girl, who started when she was at school, has now finished college and has a job, but likes the shop work enough to continue with it (and it is a lovely place to work, I adore it) – but the day will come when she needs a full weekend for other things, and although she has promised to give Al decent notice, she is under no obligation at all.
All his staff are lovely, in fact. Jean, who retired in the spring, has been suffering from arthritis in her hands and feet, and asked him a while ago to look for someone else, as she didn’t want to have to quit suddenly and leave him in the lurch. it’s the new member of staff who has young children and can’t work on a Saturday
When Al took over the shop, and that will be five years ago in September, he took over the existing staff. The daughter of the proprietor was very ill and he and his wife decided to give up their businesses to look after her. To start with, the staff worked full-time to give him time to cope, but then he decided to shut up shop. This was hard for him, but the right decision and no one doubted it. I’m not sure if I’ve told you about this before and apologies to any long-time readers who may have read this already.
Five years ago, Al was working and living in Norwich. Then his landlady decided to sell his flat and he couldn’t find anything as nice for the same price, so he came home to live and commuted. One Tuesday in early September, I heard that Derek was going to close the shop, permanently, on Saturday. I told the Sage. He went to see the owners of the shop (not that he told me then). He came home and said that there were a couple of rooms above the shop, maybe Al could live there and let out the shop itself? He’d got the key, would I like to look round?
Off we went. We went upstairs. Pretty quickly, I said no. It would be far too small – possible, but would cost far too much to convert and it could never be rented to anyone else, as the only access was via the front or back door of the shop. But, I noticed, the site of the shop is the best in Yagnub. And Al loves the retail business. And he likes selling real things, that people want – not luxury goods that they might occasionally treat themselves to, but to provide a genuine service. Would he, I wondered, be interested in becoming a greengrocer?
You see why I call him the Sage? He was way ahead of me, but he had not given me a hint. He showed me the shop and that was all. If I had said no and nothing more, that would have been it, because he trusts me to be quite quick on the uptake, excitable, and imaginative if I’m given a starting point.
Al was working late that night. It was 11.30 when he got home. We sat down with him and told him the situation. The Sage took him in to see the shop.
Midnight. Al was interested. “How long do I have to decide?” he asked. I swear this is true…THE SAGE AND I LOOKED AT OUR WATCHES. Simultaneously. Unrehearsed. “Ah” said Al. … … … “Right. I’ll go for it.”
At 9 the next morning, he went to see the shop owners, with his father. They negotiated a price. Al bought the shop outright (we have a real problem with renting in our family, so we save up).
Next day, Derek was told. I went to visit him. Now, this was an odd experience. For ten years, I’d been shopping with him, and we had a very friendly relationship, but it was that of shopkeeper and customer, you know? Suddenly, we were hugging and kissing and crying with each other, for his emotions were everywhere and I felt for him, and, well, you know.
Al gave in his notice. We told the staff and asked them to stay on. A notice was put in the window, saying that the shop would be shut for a week. During that week, it was repainted and changed around a bit – well, you have to make your mark, don’t you. It reopened – Al was still working out his notice and I can’t remember how it worked out, as I had another matter on my mind, which I’ll tell you about in another post.
You can see why our attachment to that place is more than just a way to make a living, and why we love people, don’t you?
By the way, the first order Al put in to stock an empty shop cost £250. Not many other shops could be done on that shoestring, could they?