I defy you to go into the Corner Shop on the Bath Road in Woolhampton and come out without buying anything, even if it’s just a box of matchsticks.
No, indeed, the trick is to come out without exceeding the credit card limit, for they have so many beautiful things inside this cornucopia of gift ideas that it’s hard to restrain yourself from snapping up everything in sight.
As Nina Peddie, who opened the shop 18 months ago with her friend Claire Dibble, says: “We do have a really big range. We take supplies from everywhere. We attend lots of trade fairs, trawl the internet and listen to people’s suggestions. We’re constantly bringing in new stuff.” What has resulted is a variety of goods that takes the customer from a fully foldable, washable and fashionable neoprene handbag (right, at £55 one of this year’s big sellers) to a tastefully recycled tote bag for £4.95, from a swansdown-soft shawl, hand-woven by a family in Nepal for £250, to a pom pom ring for £2.50.
Although they have lines that also sell in the likes of Harrods, Liberty and Fenwicks, they certainly don’t want to be thought of as a “snooty shop. We want everyone to feel happy to walk in the door. We don’t want to be stuck up – we’re really adamant about that. We want to be a community thing for the people in the village.”
Already Nina and Claire find that they are introducing people to each other in the shop. They started the enterprise when they discovered that there was nothing like it in the area – they had both worked in London before starting their families – and came across the ideal corner site on the Bath Road.
It dates back to the 1560s and had, in various incarnations been a grocery store, an antiques shop and most recently, a crafts shop, but was vacant when the pair saw its potential. They met when their children were small (they have five between them, ranging in age from 10 to 24), “but don’t just think of us as bored housewives,” says Claire. “This has got to work as a business.
We’ve both always been quite thrifty. Whatever we sell, has to be good value.” It is. Their reindeer-skin throw, for instance, was a snip at £150 (I speak as one who knows, having, coincidentally, been examining recently the very same at a higher price on a market stall in Finland), while the neoprene bags are selling for £70 in London, Nina told me. Boxes and boxes of seasonal items had just arrived the day we visited and one customer who saw the array on entering couldn’t help but exclaim: “Oh, Christmas. I’m so excited.”
So was I. There was delightful selection of quirky baubles for the tree, like an adorable polar bear and baby, or the felt mistletoe, for about £12.95 each, not to mention the exquisite tree fairies, £30, made by a lady from Eastern Europe in order to put her daughter through ballet school.
Talking of teenagers, there were sleep shorts in a pouch for her (£22, a flat-pack beer crate stool (£18.95) for him, and these were just two of the myriad items that caught my notice. Venturing into the children’s section was to enter a world of wonder with both collectables, such as a desirable Maileg Mouse Princess and the pea bed (for £99), and hard-wearing playware, such as their den kits (large £98, small £50) both packed full of the stuff of a young boy’s dreams.
Then there are exquisite mini-Lego sets, varieties of beautifully illustrated picture books, pretty hand puppets, cute animal nightlights, Kirigami sets for kids, quality felt tips, stickers… “They’ve got to be good. They’ve got to be fun,” says Nina. Even babies are not forgotten and their stock of Aden and Anais muslins just flew off the shelves after the Duchess of Cambridge was seen to favour them for Charlotte, according to Nina.
Everything, from the soft-as-a-baby’s bottom array of wool and cashmere scarves, made by an ancient Irish company for £29.50 each, to the Noble Isle shower gel range (£20) which comes in some unusual scents – have a sniff at the whisky and water aroma – the Jessica Russell Flint linen napkins £25, and the handy handbag lights, £5.95, has been personally selected by Nina and Claire. “We’re passionate about things,”says Nina. “Unless we love it, we’re not having it.”
You’ll find something to love there, too. I promise you.