Shaftesbury’s new deli is opening soon and Alfred met the experienced retailer behind this new venture. The shop will bring both essential goods and luxury treats back onto our High Street and add a new choice of tearoom.
When Cherie Farmer was a little girl, growing up in the South East London suburb of Forest Hill, one of her toys was a shop playset. Cherie used to pretend to be a shopkeeper. “With my sister,” Cherie recalled. “But I never thought that it would turn into reality.”
Since then, Cherie has sustained a 20-year retail career, with a break for bringing up her children. She has worked for some big names, including John Lewis. “I have been in retail from the age of sixteen. You may remember Richards Shops. I was a visual merchandiser, changing the windows,” she said.
You might be surprised to hear Cherie compare the High Street location of her new Shaftesbury Deli, which occupies the former Fork and Flowers shop, with London’s busiest shopping thoroughfare. “I feel as though Shaftesbury High Street takes me back to how it used to feel on Oxford Street. I had really big windows and I am seeing all of the people walking past. It is no different. It’s lovely and it’s local, touristy and has everything going for it. That’s where the passion has come from,” she smiled.
Cherie says even though she doesn’t open until next week, locals have been keen to introduce themselves and she loves that. “It’s just fantastic. It has the same vibe as London. The happiness of the High Street, and everybody has been supportive. We are not a big chain. We are an independent shop. All the people from independent shops along the High Street have been in, introduced themselves and I’ve been into their shops. It’s been great.”
Although Cherie worked in clothing retail for much of her career, she doesn’t see a gap in that market in our town. “I wouldn’t be opening a ladies fashion shop because there is no need for it. We have other shops in High Street doing that already. I felt there was a gap for a deli,” she explained.
Cherie spent four years working at the Udder Farm Shop in East Stour. That experience gave her an insight into food retailing. “When I first started working in a deli, I didn’t know anything. It was completely alien. I’d gone from fashion many years ago to working with food. I did courses, I got my hygiene certificates and learned everything to do with food,” said Cherie.
Retail gurus often advise town centre businesses to offer products or experiences that can’t be found easily and cheaply from online retailers. Cherie knows how her deli will stand out and excel. “It will be customer service that you can’t get online. You’re going to walk in here and we will say ‘good morning’, ‘good afternoon’ or ‘hello’. For some people, we may be the only people they speak to all day long, if they live on their own or they are elderly. You can’t get that on the internet. I think the shop has a lovely feel about it.”
Cherie says the three part-time staff she has lined up to work with her are ‘fabulous’. And she says the choice of premises was important too. “We looked at a few but this one lent itself perfectly to a deli. The double-fronted shop is very traditional. I wanted it to look as if it had been here for donkeys’ years and I’m hoping we have achieved that,” she said.
Cherie believes Shaftesbury’s High Street is vibrant and offers potential. “It’s the people. Obviously, you get the tourists and you’ve got Gold Hill. Also you’ve got your local schools and a cross-section of ages. Gillingham, Blandford and Tisbury are all local places where Shaftesbury people often shop but this is the town that I live in. I’m passionate about Shaftesbury. I live at the bottom of Foyle Hill,” said Cherie.
She will sell bread as well as some additional staple products currently unobtainable in the town centre. “Milk, eggs, lavender-blue cake, lovely meat from the butcher in Ludwell. Our cheeses are all from local suppliers. We have sourced locally as much as we can. Until we get the doors open, we are not going to know the reaction of customers and what they are looking for. If there’s anything they want, we will go with it and try and source it,” she promised.
Some Shaftesbury High Street businesses are known for their signature products. Carolyn, who operates the Truckle Truck, is famed for her gorgonzola. Reeve the Bakers are renowned for their sourdough bread. Cherie is uncertain about what will be her most famous item. “I’m not 100% sure at the moment because we are not open,” Cherie said. But she knows which cheese will sell, from her previous deli experience. “Dorset blue vinny is a winner with a lot of the cheese people,” she says.
“I want to create a one-stop-shop for everyone. They can come in and get their convenience items. People who are staying in Shaftesbury, at B&Bs or tourist places, renting cottages on St James Street, I want them to think they can go to the Shaftesbury Deli. We’ll have what they want. Our coffee machine is now up and running and I didn’t have any milk this morning. I realised that somebody needs to open a deli so people can buy milk!” she laughed.
We moved on to cost. Cherie says her prices will be affordable. “I cannot think of opening a shop that people would come in and then go away thinking, ‘It’s very nice but it’s too expensive’. I want people of all ages and with all sorts of purse sizes to come in. If we get things wrong, we will tweak it. Every day is a learning day.”
So what about Sunday trading? Few High Street independents are open in Shaftesbury. It is a ‘chicken and egg’ quandary. Whilst the tourism sector might welcome more businesses opening on Sundays, without guaranteed trade, some shop owners question whether it’s worth sacrificing their day of rest.
“I think it is a family day and a day off,” said Cherie. “All my staff will work half the six-days-of-the-week. I think Sunday trading is good at certain times when it’s the Shaftesbury Fringe or a special event. We will open the doors. I just think everybody needs downtime. They should be able to do whatever they need to do, walk the dogs or whatever. We will be here Monday to Saturday from 8.30am until 5pm and, hopefully, people can grab enough within those opening times,” said Cherie.
We walked to the back of the shop, which is larger than it appears from the pavement. Cherie took me to a small room where we looked out over the long strip of lawn and the impressive views down across St James and to Melbury Hill. This will be the deli’s new tearoom, although it won’t open immediately next week. “It’s a very small tearoom – just teas, coffees and cake. We have got a kitchen downstairs and the idea is that we will eventually be making things. It is work in progress,” Cherie said.
She recalls the moment when she decided she would go it alone and launch her own Shaftesbury business. She was working in the Udder Farm Shop at the time. “I felt it was my time to do something for me. I wanted to do it for myself. My children are grown and independent now. All of the wonderful people that have given me knowledge, I have them sitting on my shoulder. This is my time to put that into practice.”
Cherie says the process of launching her business has been relatively straightforward, but she’s had to address the building’s damp. “Hence the new dehumidifier,” she said, as she pointed to the white appliance quietly humming away in the corner. “It’s gone quite smoothly so far. It’s taken time from when we first viewed it – it was an empty shell then – to get to this stage. I think we are doing well,” she said.
Cherie says she is most excited about opening the door and saying ‘Good morning’ to her first customer. She won’t have to wait too long, and neither will you. Shaftesbury Deli opens on Friday 28th February.