This week, Chiara is meeting Goodley’s Jewellers: an historic independent jewellers shop that has been in Egham High Street for decades.
When I came into this store for the first time, I immediately noticed a good incense smell in the room. From a door open towards the back site of the store, is visible a Hindu icon, a religious symbol of good luck, drawn on a furniture, and even the door’s frames with the upwards tip reminds me of the typical oriental architecture. At Goodley’s I met Paresh from Tanzania, but of Indian origin, who moved to the UK when he was still a child. I went to visit him in his shop a couple of times. At the beginning, when I was talking to him about our project, he looked a bit hesitant as he thought he could not help out much as, he affirms, “has been here for just 23 years”. I reassured him saying that his contribution would be valuable, so we arrange for another day to have a chat. I went back a few days later and he told me about his time in Egham.
“They are now trying to improve Egham High Street, with new shops and everything. Before it was like a village and it was nicer because people knew each other. The shops were much nicer, there was a butcher’s shop, a bakery, a grocery shop, a good cobbler. They were all new and nice. Now it has changed, if you go to the High Street there are too many coffee bars, too many restaurants and too many charity shops. That doesn’t bring many people to the High Street from other places because if there are some specialised and independent shops, then people would come into town. Now they don’t come anymore. Of course is good to have Tesco and Waitrose, but independent shops were amazing.
We are very lucky because our shop has been established here since 1931. We took a running shop and continued the traditional style, old original fashion style. We can sell and do things that not everyone can do, otherwise I don’t think there would have been reasons to come to Egham.
Too many people are making too many modern shops on the High Street. I think that taking the characterising of Egham High Street away, they are making it like a different town, which is not nice. They want to do big projects, they are going to knock down some old buildings, they are going to do a theatre and other little shops, but I don’t know how beneficiary this will be for the town. Egham is an historic town and they should keep it like this. Having big new buildings in the middle of the High Street doesn’t make it an historic town anymore, it makes it like any other town. How many hairdressers and barbers are in Egham High Street?! So many… I think there is not anymore space for retailers, so people don’t have any reason to come into town anymore.
Opposite here there was an individual furniture shop and another nice clothing shop, all by private owners. Further down, where now there is the fish and chips shop there was a leather shop. They were all shops where you could buy things that were not possible to find anywhere else, and very individual items. This is all gone now. Egham has not improved, it’s getting worse. People will go away from Egham and go to shop somewhere else.
All these improvements and renovations they are going to do are to have more flats for students. Students don’t spend money, they come from abroad and after a while they go away. I also talked to people who have moved from Egham because of too many students, which is not great. I don’t think that students bring many benefits, they don’t bring money into the town. Students don’t bring money to the shops. They pay rent but don’t go shopping. Like this, slowly everything will be turned into restaurant, cafes or charity shops.
I wouldn’t change Egham High Street by the way. We’ve been here 23 years, so when you are established in the same place for a long time it’s not easy to change because starting somewhere new would be very difficult. Here people know us, they trust us, they come back to us. If we go somewhere else it would be a new start, and that’s not easy. It needs at least 3 or 4 years before establishing yourself. Here we know our customers by name. If I go in a different town nobody would know us. The personal relationship with the customers is very important. We don’t regret our choice anyway. When we came to this town it was wonderful, slowly it has gone down. But we’re still ok because I have my regular customers. When we came here it was wonderful, the community welcomed us well and we felt part of it.
The Egham’s community is made of very nice people. Lovely people. They are friendly, but we don’t really mingle. There is a respectful relationship but there is not a real friendship”.
Follow us next week for the next story from Egham High Street….
(Header photograph: aerial view of the High Street, with thanks to the late local photographer, Fred Parkin)