This morning I decided to trot my dog Molly into the City as my diary is clear.
I had heard on the grapevine that a small Italian Coffee Shop (aptly called Solo Grano) was open for business and was dying for a pukka Cappuccino and as the sun was already blazing at 8.30am wanted to imagine myself in Athens as I should have been had it not been for lockdown.
The City was quiet except for a lonesome street-dweller and a clutch of construction workers pressing on with the development of City Centre flats and student accommodation. The City was clean and bright, its ancient mix of medieval (think Robin Hood) and Victorian splendour standing proud in the morning sunshine.
I’d clocked the little independent Italian coffee shop opening about a year ago, but had never visited. Perhaps habitually I was attuned to grabbing a Costa from the large soul-less café on the corner or worse going for the dispensed version at Sainsbury’s Local. This morning was different – they were closed. Social distancing observed, I bought my coffee for £2.25 (same price as Costa) served by the smiling (and rather good looking) young Roman at Solo Grano – a small wrapped biscuit (nod to our wonderful client the Food Standards Agency) placed beside it and vowed to reward his endeavours by becoming a loyal and returning customer.
Wondering about in Market Square almost alone other than the local mad MOD (now 75) driving his 3 wheeler version of a Vespa through the fountains fully adorned with badges, St. Georges flags and multiple other paraphernalia, I looked about.
The once heaving big corporate retail brands – Debenhams, New Look, Burton/Dorothy Perkins, Primark, Costa, Starbucks, Café Nero – were closed and empty, their large windows plastered with tacky discount posters, their displays a season old, the goods uninviting.
I wondered (and hoped) that beyond COVID and subject to some real common sense on behalf of the Council in terms of business rates, and taking advantage of all these emerging new flats, now might be the big moment for a resurgence of the Independent and family owned business able to flex and be versatile in times of crisis bringing back truly differentiated service with personality and individualism to the citizens of our City. I’m in.