Tuesday 9 May 2023

Silvesters Stores Shuts

This is not going to be a cheerful article. Uncharacteristically for me, there is no last minute white pill waiting in the wings for this one I'm afraid. Silvesters Stores is closing. Today was its last day and there is a massive clearance sale on. Everything that can be fitted into one basket costs just a tenner. Silvesters is a hardware shop in a residential area of East Oxford; right inside what I call the "mini-Bohemian quarter" of Oxford. It is also just across the road from the ill-fated Inner Bookshop, see background links. It has stood on the corner of Magdalen Road and Hurst Street for as long as anybody I know can remember. The style of its shop sign indicates it originated way back into the last century; maybe even the one before. Nobody remembers who Silvester was. It has always been the... the place to go for all electrical and household goods; light-bulbs, fuses, DIY tools etc. It was run by a cheerful man who, unlike many chain casual staff, both loved his work and knew a lot about it. He could answer any question you asked: What is the right battery for this appliance? How long an extension flex should I use for this socket? etc. When I walked past Silvesters today during work I was shocked and very saddened to see that it was closing down. It had the sale notice in the window and an estate agent sign attached to the wall, see the illustration. Really it shouldn't surprise me. Like all small local businesses, Silvesters was dealt a body blow by the Covid lockdown. I remember last year queuing outside when it first reopened because only one person was allowed in the shop at a time. I decided to go there after work and find out what had happened. However, when I got there, there was a queue, just like in lockdown times. "You can't go in there yet, mate." said one of the men in the queue. "It's one person at a time and we're ahead."
    "I don't want to buy anything." I replied. "I just want to find out why they're closing." I opened the door and went in. Strangely enough, the man who is usually behind the counter was not there; instead there was a woman I'd never seen before. She immediately barked at me: "Could you wait outside in the queue please! Only one person allowed in the shop at a time!"
    I replied: "I don't want to buy anything; I just want to have a word."
    "Alright, but I still need you to wait in the queue please!"
    I left the shop and walked away. It appears Silvesters is already in the hands of the liquidators. The woman in the shop with the corporate Robocop manner must be somebody employed by some High Street insolvency vultures. It feels to me like everything noble and profound in my world is evaporating before my eyes. The fun has been taken out of work, individuality and honesty has been cut out of our retail experience and any person who dares to express any form of uniqueness is persecuted as if they were an arch criminal. It's like Andy Thomas says: "Everything is designed to break out spirit." This really is a series of unfortunate events and there are times when it feels like it will never end and I can't really see a way out of it.
See here for more information: https://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2012/06/oxfords-rive-gauche.html.
And: https://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2014/10/inner-bookshop-closes.html.


Anonymous said...

This makes me very sad to see. Unfortunatly it is far from unique to your local area either. Nobody will necessarily know the unique circumstances for every small business closure, however the ones that have 'been around forever' to the locals before closing seems all the more poignant for their loss. For some it could well have been lockdowns but I fear much is the changing habits with internet shopping in the same way out of town shopping destroyed towns in the eighties.

Very recently I had the same experience with a local indoor market, virtually derelict. A handful of stalls from a thriving market it's heyday long gone now being forcibly closed by a local council no longer willing to subsidise it's existence with government funding reduced forcing the remaining stallholders to leave unwillingly. The handful that remain in single digits either the newest to arrive under false promises or the oldest survivors determined to go down with the ship.

It makes me feel so guilty of not using it in the same way I had done in my student days for bargains when money was tight or for that knowledgeable stallholder to show me what I needed to fix something being young and inexperienced in DIY newly living away from home for the first time. Use it or loose it couldn't be more apt in these times.

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

It's devastating, isn't it. It seems the older, sweeter and more honest a business is, the more difficult it find it to operate in today's society. I can only take comfort in that MLK line, it's a sign of health to feel maladjusted to a sick society.

Richard K said...

Would it be fair to say the LTN's played more a part in its demise? We have a similar family run shop in Brum, which remained open as an 'essential service' during lockdown, but before the LTNs were imposed in King's Heath. 80% of traders now quote a 40% drop in trade.

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Hi Richard.
I'm sure they have not helped. Magdalen Road does have an LTN bollard a hundred yards up the road from it which means if you want to access the shop from Cowley Road you literally have to go all the way to St Clements and round The Plain. It's insanity! you could park behind the bollard and walk, but if you have a lot to carry etc that is not an option.