I hardly ever seen a soul in the shop, but the traces of their visits are everywhere: in the hand-carved wooden walking sticks; the scrawled list of purchases in the ledger; the fresh brownies that weren’t there an hour ago.
The stealthy manner with which products are stocked and bought rivals the behaviour of the tooth fairy. The store is opened every morning at 9am in an equally ghostly fashion, and shut up in the evening. I don’t know by who. That would spoil the mystery.
I wrote this shop off for ages.
I stuck my head in not long after I moved to Coniston, but the Honest Shop looked like a charity store minus the senior volunteer sorting through a box of old ties. In fact there was no volunteer at all. No one except me and I barely set foot in the place before deciding there was nothing there for me. What do I need a knitted baby jacket for?
A month later I went in with a visiting friend who found the concept charming. An unmanned shop where locals sell homemade wares and have faith the customers put money in the box is a bit of a small-town novelty.
It wasn’t until the spring that I decided it wasn’t such a hill-billy idea and started to fall in love with it a little. A used book sale in the next door hall enticed me into the Coniston Institute that day, where I picked up a bag full of books for £2. On the way out I stopped to have my first decent browse of the items in the Honest Shop, for once looking beyond the knitting.
The grandmotherly touch is everywhere. The giveaway is the beautiful cursive handwriting on the labels. My generation doesn’t write like that. It also doesn’t bother to make chutney, although the hipsters are bringing knitting back. But as a whole, many of the skills on display are fading in society.
Over the next month I’ve found myself popping in more often – at least once a week, if not more, to see if there are new jams and restraining from buying the tub of homemade ice cream. I’m a sucker for home baking and find it tough to leave without a scone, slice of tea cake or biscuits – especially if they’re fresh. I took some photos in the store last week, grabbed a coffee in the village and on my walk back past the shop went in again to find fresh chocolate and walnut brownie on the counter. How could I say no?
Last week I found a zip-lock bag with several sprigs of fresh oregano for 50p. “Great with pasta” was written on the label. It was. In a rare event, I saw the lady who grows it putting some more herbs out (this time rosemary and sage) when I bought my brownie. The herbs had been out of her garden for mere minutes. She said she’s got some thyme too, but it’s not quite there yet. I’ll be looking out for it.
Apparently the shop was robbed recently – someone took the small black box we customers drop our change into. It can’t be the first time and it won’t be the last. Unfortunately, there will always be people like that. I wonder if many products are stolen. Honesty is all that forces a customer to fill in the ledger with the item description, seller code and price and then drop the money in the box. Judging by the pages of sold items in the ledger, honesty is a virtue that’s still in good supply.