Our local cobbler's is closing next week and we're going to miss him.
Operating from a tiny shop just round the corner, he has mended our shoes, boots and bags, and offered helpful advice on leather cleaning and maintenance, since we moved to the town seven years ago.
The last repair job he did for us was on this very vintage leather bag whose strap had split and become detached.
On Friday we dropped into the shop with a pair of boots needing some cobbler TLC and happened upon a huddle of glum looking folk in the minuscule reception area of the tiny shop. The subject of conversation was the cobbler's unexpected and imminent (as in next week) closure as a result of his bank moving the overdraft goalposts at short notice, effectively doubling his outgoings.
Game over! Just like that!
It wasn't even the local branch what did it, he explained quite candidly - they know him personally and patronise his business, as do most of the locals. Rather, the dastardly deed was executed by anonymous 'head office' personnel based somewhere in deepest Englandshire, who had decided his fate by database, presumably because his micro enterprise didn't tick the right boxes for continuing support in the current financial climate. Frankly, that's more than a bit rich coming from an institution which played no small part in precipitating the economic crisis, but there always seems to be a bottomless money pit available, courtesy of the taxpayer, to bail out banks on the brink of failure.
Whatever happened to the government's promises about helping small businesses in these tough times, the cobbler asked (rhetorically)? And who, exactly, stands up for sole traders and micro enterprises who are often just a modest overdraft facility away from extinction? Unfortunately, the bank won't accept warm words in lieu of cold hard cash, and soundbites about support won't keep our cobbler's door open. In fact they haven't done much at all to help high streets across the country where once thriving retail units now lie empty for months, if not years. Despite bold announcements about how 'loadsamoney' is being earmarked to help SMEs which are struggling to survive as the banks' new (but not improved) lending criteria have cut off cashflow, no one around here knows anyone who has seen any tangible benefits.
Our small county town takes particular pride in its range of small independent shops, which are appreciated by locals and visitors alike as a welcome antidote to the multiplicity of chain stores, fast food franchises and supermarkets that dominate so many high streets. We Forfarians still boast a goodly number of bakers, butchers, fishmongers and an enviable selection of small retailers, as well as independent local furniture, carpet and electrical stores. We also have fruit and veg stalls and a thriving farmers' market selling home grown produce. Athough the dedicated candlestick maker has long since departed, we can still buy our 'fork 'andles' from the local ironmonger, aptly named David Irons & Sons but now owned by the Earl of Strathmore, which occupies a three storey building in the centre of town.
Angus Council's misguided (in our opinion) relocation of its headquarters from the town centre to a site just off the A90 (next to McDonalds) effectively hammered another few nails into the coffin of local shops, which have suffered a downturn as a result (not to mention the inconvenience for the good folk of Forfar who now have to get a bus or drive there). Having controversially sold the former council site to Asda, which brought in 'loadsamoney' for their shiny and no doubt eco-friendly new building (that you have to drive to), they dealt a double-whammy blow to local businesses as trade haemmorhaged from the nearby high street and the local Co-op. Never mind, McDonald's and Asda will have profited, even if no one else has.
As for our local cobbler, he has no choice but to shut up shop. He is nowhere near retirement age, his business doesn't lend itself to home-based working (even if he had the space) and there are few employment opportunities locally, so he must resign himself to becoming just another statistic. He says he feels more sorry for his loyal customers than himself as he wasn't making much money anyway, probably not even the minimum wage which is compulsory for everyone except the self employed and those on 'welfare to work' programmes (aka 'free labour for multinationals'). So next week we'll have another shop empty and another livelihood lost. Times change, we know, but call this progress?
We will be seeing our cobbler when we go in to pick up our boots tomorrow, but not for the last time as he is a member of this community who will still be using our local shops and services regularly - unlike the box tickers in some remote head office, who, having been bailed out themselves to the tune of 'loadsamillions', decided that his business and loyal customers weren't worth supporting because a spreadsheet told them so.
Cobblers to that!