The Chesterfield shop made of local makers: “It’s nice to make my own decisions”
“I can remember saying to one of the kids ‘One day you’re eighteen, next thing you’ll wake up and you’re forty’. You just don’t know where it goes. I think just slow everything down and enjoy it…Take the time to appreciate everything that happens.”
This is Delightful Decor owner Alison Swift, 59, chatting about time. Her shop in Chesterfield’s Falcon Yard echoes this. Full of handmade creations made by local artisans, people that take the time to make something particular, something individual.
“Like with your kids, as they grow up. Suddenly it’s gone. Just take your time with it and enjoy it. Same with business. Just take your time, and think about it as you go along.”
Our conversation stops on several occasions, Alison’s shop door-bell announcing another customer, another local maker, Alison taking the time to chat. On the wall, a Saturday Night Fever vinyl LP made into a clock ticks silently.
“Back in the day, 25 years ago, myself and my husband wanted to do something that was our own business,” say Alison. “And we looked at several different types of shops. We went to look at A For Art that used to be on Cavendish Street, which was for sale at the time. And we thought ‘Why buy somebody else’s business? Let’s do our own version of it, what we want to do’. And that’s when we opened the shop.”
Beginning as Arcade Crafts, her shop initially focussed on items for crafters to work with. “That was great until the recession hit last time, and then things needed to change. Lisa came in here for a while with me. She was some of the inspiration behind this.”
Lisa is Alison’s daughter, who went on to run her own place, Shop Indie on Steeplegate, with her partner John.
“I’m quite proud, yeah,” smiles Alison. “It’s nice because I’ve seen it develop all the way through. My other daughter works for her.”
When asked how it feels to have influenced her daughter’s shop, Alison shakes her head.
“Well you see, I look at it the other way round. I know we set the original shop up, so yeah, she learnt from that, but she went down the artisan route before me. So I feel like I’ve learnt quite a lot from her.”
A quick circle around Delightful Decor sees greetings cards, cushions, baby gifts, jewellery, lino prints, children’s books, hair clips, photography, cuddly toys, artwork, glasswork, all independently made.
“It’s mainly local artisans that bring their products in. And I also do a lot of framing, which is a big side of my business. Bespoke picture frames. I do all sorts. Not just basic pictures. I do cross-stitch tapestries. I’ve done war medals. I’ve done an MBE. Framed football shirts. Christening dresses. Anything.”
“A lot of the stuff has a story behind it, and you discuss that with the customers. It’s nice. Somebody brought in three caps that a relative had when they were in the military. That ended up being quite a big chunky frame. The MBE was quite nice to see.”
The conversation stops again as the door-bell rings. Another local maker, the chat about more pieces made, Alison an open hand of yes, bring them in. The maker leaves happy.
“There’s a lot of talent out there that you don’t realise,” Alison says with a nod. “And not necessarily basic crafts. People have their own spin on everything. It’s very interesting seeing what people can do. Some of the people that come in don’t necessarily appreciate how good they are.”
“Because I work on a commission basis, we can have a discussion on prices and sometimes they undervalue themselves. And I say ‘No, we’re not going to sell it at that, we’re going to sell it at this!’”
Alison laughs, then adds “It’s people having to get confidence in themselves. Especially if they’re only just getting going. They need that confidence building up to say ‘Yeah, I can put it in there, and I can sell it’.”
And how does the process begin? “So it’s people that discover me, walk through the door, and bring their stuff in. So it means I get to know the people that are doing it, which is fabulous. I’d say that 90% of it is local people.”
And how would Alison describe this part of town? “It’s a lovely little community down here. Everybody knows one another, all the little independent shops. We all chat to one another. Know how one another are. It’s like Emma at M’s Gallery, she’ll pop round, ‘Are you alright?’. She knows I’m on my own some days, she’s on her own some days.”
After 25 years of running a shop, what advice would Alison give to potential indie business owners?
“Do it. If they’ve got the confidence to do it, do it. Just start small and build it up. You don’t need the pressure of going in huge. Build it up as you go along. We learnt a lot in that first twelve months. You learn from your customers as well.”
Alison smiles. “I’m glad we did it. I’ve worked for myself for so long, I couldn’t work for anyone else now. I’ve always been quite independent. It’s nice to make my own decisions.”
And the answer to life? “A balance of family and work. I think that’s something I’ve learnt in the last few years, with a few things that have happened. As much as work is an important part, you’ve got to have the balance between the two… Especially now I’ve got three grand-kids!”