Bank Holiday Special

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On One of My Favourite Shops in Cirencester

Following on from my midweek withering a few weeks back on the unintended consequences of the Market Place refurbishment, I am taking this opportunity – and what better time than on a Bank Holiday weekend – to turn to the positive in penning this  paean to one of my favourite shops in Cirencester. You’re going to have to go with me on this, as it is perhaps a trifle unexpected, but for years now, it has been – and still is – one of those places where I will almost go looking for an excuse to go and buy something. I realise that may say more about me than I should perhaps be comfortable with, but let’s give me the benefit of the doubt, and take a moment to appreciate the wonder that is Gardiner Haskins. Like I said: go with me on this.

I don’t know about you, but thinking back to my childhood, I seem to remember that nearly every Sunday morning was spent not in Church (despite my parents’ best efforts) but in the DIY superstores that began to spring up on the edge of towns around the UK. While I know such trip were unremittingly dull for some, perhaps even most, kids, I have to admit to liking them. Perhaps it was the size of the likes of Sandford’s, – remember them? – Texas, and the others whose names I forget, that impressed me, or perhaps it was the thought that this trip marked the starting point for the creation of something exciting at home; to this day I retain fond memories of those places, which may go some way to explaining my liking for Gardiner’s.

But this not just pure nostalgia we are talking here.

I like the fact that is in the centre of town, rather than stuck out on the periphery of the town. I am not, in general, a fan of those out-of-town shopping centres. I know they have their place, but one of the things I like about Ciren is that the town centre is a proper nucleus that holds the rest of the town together, and so to have a town centre where nearly everything you might need is obtainable is a wonderful thing: it is to Cirencester’s great credit, that it houses a shop that you would, under normal circumstances expect to be relegated wallflower-like to the periphery.

Also, it has its own carpark. Again, I suspect that that is a fact that often goes unnoticed, but one that deserves at least a modicum of acknowledgment, not to mention appreciation. In my case it verges on the ridiculous that I drive there, but with the winter  – not to mention the recent downpours – we’ve had, I’ve even less compulsion to walk. I can’t help it but it is a facility I like to make use of when I have cause to shop there: even in a town where it’s relatively cheap and easy (most of the time) to park for any length of time, one feels as though it’d be madness not to use it.

Another thing I like is that it has a back entrance to add to the one out the front, something which, like the car park, may not be much to recommend anywhere, but how many stores in the town can actually boast that? Calling it a store rather than a shop is particularly apposite; it’s not just a place where we – yes, more of us than we might think – go to part with our money and walk out with something, it is that we know Gardiner’s is where things are kept for us when we most need to go an buy them. This is something one finds all too rarely. Granted, in the kitchen section for example, it has many items you’d be able to find in Steamer Trading a few salubrious metres up the road, but it has the more mundane stuff as well. Personally, I feel comforted that if ever I have an urgent need for a new frying pan and some kettle descaler, I can pop along to Gardiner’s and be able to find what I’m after, and even get a recommendation from one of the generally very knowledgeable staff as to what one is best.

I’m a big fan of the in-store recommendation; when one is in the market for something, even for such mundanities as caustic calcium removal products, it brightens one’s day to get not just a recommendation, but one with a pros versus cons summary as part of the package. It almost makes me want to go shopping for some lawn feed, and I don’t even have a lawn. We may be used to well-trained and knowledgeable staff in our town, possibly even overprovided for it, but here they take this to another, almost gloriously obsequious, level. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not about the attention – most of the time I heave a sigh of relief if left unbothered by in-store staff – but it is such a delight to see service and attention to detail still being seen as important. It makes a difference.

The minute you walk through the door (either one), you know that this is shopping that is slightly removed from the norm, but in a very good way. Whether it’s from the front into the midst of all the kitchenalia, or from the back where one is greeted by four-way gang plugs, coaxial cables – well, cables, anyway – and possibly even hanging baskets on special offer. From there you can go in many directions – time was when I used to lose my bearings in there – and end up in paint, the aforementioned GreenGro or whatever it’s called, even upstairs to lighting and furniture (both indoor occasional and outdoor): the world is your domestic necessities oyster.

So, there we have it. Next time you need some bin bags or some more clothes pegs, first make sure you actually go to Gardiner’s for them. Then take a moment and look around to discover what is actually in there and consider the sheer amount of useful and not-so-useful – who really wants a DVD of the London Midland Scottish Railway between the wars – stuff that they have: it really is remarkable. I, for one, am very happy that we have a shop like Gardiner’s in our town centre. I treasure its presence, and I think we all should.

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