independent shops Cambridge Purple

Cambridge Purple

Often the best indie shops are hidden down alleys as they can’t afford high rents, so take a local tour to see any gems in your area, from local bakeries to natural toy shops. Most have loyalty cards, as they need custom but can’t compete on price. Even if you buy a loaf of bread or the odd gift once a week, it helps!

Run an indie shop? Many seeds, flowers and plants are toxic to pets, so read up on what to avoid selling households with animals.

Just buying a cauliflower from a greengrocery or a bar of handmade soap from a spa makes all the difference, if we all do this collectively. As many small shops can’t afford to retrofit for disabilities, ask for home delivery, many do (often by foot!) Or will let you wait outside to collect the goods. That’s because indie shops don’t have to follow ‘rules’. And they help to keep money in the community (the manager will eat at the local pub and employ a local signwriter).

books to save our independent shops

life in the village hardware shop


Good Morning, Beautiful Business is the story of a woman who saved her row of Victoria brownstone houses in Philadelphia by starting a small cafe. And by accident, started an organic food movement!

Specialty Shop Retailing is a frequently updated book by an Amrican gift shop owner, covering shop design, pricing, employing staff, preventing theft, accessibility, customer service (American!) and tips on setting up an adjacent online shop.

The Sunrise Guide (Maine, USA) is an inspiring idea for us: an annually printed coupon book on green living with thousands of dollars worth of money-off coupons and tips. It pays for itself in no time, and local schools and nonprofits buy copies on sale or return, and keep 50% of sales. Also in app  form.

Cambridge is now sadly ‘the most cloned town in England’, with less indie shops than anywhere else (the least-cloned town is Whitstable, on the Kent coast). For this reason, the website Indie Cambridge where members are listed online. There is also a free magazine solely to promote local shops, available at many indie shops listed. All members get featured in one edition each year, along with a professional photo shoot and invites to pop-up get togethers.

a Californian idea to promote indie shops

LaJolla is a beautiful little seaside town just outside San Diego in California. What their council website does is quite inventive, and something that all councils could do here, to promote local shops. Each week, it features a ‘limelight merchant’. It profiles an indie shop or cafe, then interviews the owners and that particular week the limelight merchant may offer a special deal.

What a great idea! It’s doing things like this that are inventive, and something that the big stores can’t compete with. For instance, a limelight merchant of the week could be an indie hardware store, and that particular week, the owner may be giving discounts on a brand of natural house paint or special deals on nuts and bolts (which you can buy singly, without a plastic packet).

Or as another example, a local veggie restaurant could give a special discount on couples enjoying a meal on Valentine’s week. Or a natural toy store could give a discount (and maybe invite a juggler for entertainment!) in the run-up to Christmas, to encourage families to buy a rocking horse over an i-pad! Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. Could you imagine if all the local councils had a limelight merchant feature, how much more money into the local economy this could create?


Shopkeeping is a love letter to the small shop, by a Seattle bookseller. The history of shopkeeping and its codes, etiquettes and customs are passed along from person to person. You don’t learn to be a shopkeeper by going to college, but by going to work. You learn from people who have learned to run a shop. In this book, an indie shopkeeper for over 40 years takes you on a journey to understand how small shops shape towns to make them unique, and become treasured by the community.

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