Lynn Tait Gallery Closing
I read with sadness this week that the Lynn Tait Gallery gift shop in Old Leigh High Street is to close, around 30 years after it was first opened. Its founder, Lynn, passed away in the summer of 2017 and the family have decided to close the shop this Christmas.
When I was 15, working in this gift shop was my first ever job. My sister Holly worked there too, and I had an interview with the manager in Sara's Tea Gardens and soon became a weekend shop assistant, making displays, helping order candles, cards and toys, and making some amazing friends. I worked at this shop every weekend from then on, worked there full time on my gap year, and in holidays when I was at university.
The shop really means something to people: it was always a place where daytrippers could buy postcards and trinkets, make memories. We'd laugh at the many times a day people would come in and say "It's like an Aladdin's cave in here!". (I think we kept tally at one point) We used to have to get wind chimes down from the ceiling using a pole with a hook on the end while pan pipes played from a Nature Sounds CD and cassette system. If that isn't a symbol of the 90s, I don't know what is.
I loved winters there: making Halloween and Christmas displays, with twinkly lights and large numbers of those little glass nuggets that were a big deal in 2001. We'd drink tea, unpack deliveries, sort stock, chat to sweet old people daytripping in Leigh on Sea.
Back then it sold the kind of old-timey gifts that customers used to lap up: magnets with vintage advertising on, cutesy ornaments, and of course beach items for families visiting for the day. Sometimes, I'd buy a stick of rock out of my wages and eat it on the shop floor, teenage hunger taking over.
Since then it's become super trendy; Orla Kiely! Cath Kidston! I recently bought a very cool anchor light from there that is proudly in my living room; just the right side of kitsch. But recently, on the Facebook page, the family described the fact that since Lynn passed away, "the heart has gone out of the business" which I completely understand. She was a pioneer, a local success story, and was a great inspiration to women who wanted to set up their own businesses. I'm certainly grateful for not only the shop role, but for the opportunity I had in later years to work for Lynn's photography exhibitions in London's Oxo Tower. It gave me such good work experience and undoubtedly helped me get other jobs later in life, of which I am so, so thankful.
Making the decision to close a business is incredibly difficult. By way of association, I've experienced it a couple of times in both small and bigger ways. The most recent time was with my partner Jo, who used to run the cafe Elsie's Place in Leigh Community Centre, which I was involved in too. When it closed a couple of years ago, people came in with bunches of flowers and even now, if Jo runs into old customers in the street, they still mention how much they loved it there (which means *so* much I have to say). Running a business can be everything in your life. It's huge. I worked in the Broadway bookshop Grindley's right up until it closed in 2008 (after an incredible 60 years of business), when people were buying chairs from the floor and shelves off the walls and books that were reduced down far too much, and that was truly heartbreaking. People would come in all teary, and say what the shop had meant to them, or their long-departed parents, or their children and grandchildren.
I urge you to go and visit the Lynn Tait Gallery before its last day on Christmas Eve. These beautiful independent shops are what makes Leigh on Sea so lovely; make sure you visit it before it goes.