Shop Local: ‘These are unprecedented and scary times for small businesses,’ says new St Albans shop owner

Alison Lloyd outside her new store Amalily in George Street, St Albans.

Alison Lloyd outside her new store Amalily in George Street, St Albans. - Credit: Archant

Opening a new shop is always a risk, but to do so in the middle of a pandemic, following a second national lockdown, takes someone with added courage and determination.

After eight years trading at St Albans Charter Market, the owner of Amalily jewellery stall, Alison Lloyd, says she has always been a risk taker.

Having collected the keys to her new shop in George Street just days before the second lockdown was announced, Alison says opening her first store in the middle of a pandemic is ironic, but she’s ready for the challenge.

“I had been close to opening a store for a while, but the timing just wasn’t right in my life. But this year has taught me that life is too short, and you should just be brave and go for it!

“I signed on the dotted line because I genuinely didn’t expect a second lockdown. All the plans I had in place, including signage and events had to change – which is not only emotionally stressful, but physically very time consuming.

“However, having exhibited at different events and markets over the years I’ve learnt how to think on my feet and adapt to the situation, space, surroundings, and parameters you are working in.”

Alison believes Amalily offers something special for customers after a different Christmas gift.

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“We offer unusual and eclectic boutique and sterling silver jewellery that hit the spot for all ages and genres. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to customers over the year to understand what they like and to continually refine our range to meet their style.

“But I’m also a risk taker and will choose products that push the usual boundaries to keep our collection fresh. I’m also big on customer service and will always go the extra mile because I want to.”

She is counting on a successful festive season once restrictions are lifted: “Christmas is the benchmark for the year ahead. But this year, it’s a different kettle of fish. There are so many different factors at play that it’s hard to predict what will happen.

“These are unprecedented and scary times for small businesses because the usual predictions and shopping patterns have changed so dramatically, and so much is out of our control.

“The Christmas months are hugely important and by far the busiest for gift retailers like myself, but then the hope is that when we are Covid-free, the tourists return and we all celebrate and enjoy shopping as we knew it!

“I’m lucky that I have opened with an existing customer base and whilst this Christmas may not deliver the sales I’d anticipated, I’m opening this store as a long term venture and establish my brand in St Albans.”

Like other independent retailers, she is passionate about the need to support them through these difficult times, and is backing the Herts Ad’s #ShopLocal campaign.

“St Albans is home to a very loyal and supportive community with a genuine passion for its independent shops. People love coming into town to support the market and buying local and we are lucky to have such a strong community spirit and care-factor for our town. This is also the same case for business owners. I’ve certainly felt the goodwill and the sense of camaraderie as I’ve opened. It’s a wonderfully encouraging and supportive environment to be part of.

“We offer things they can’t find in chains or big online retailers. We have an eye for quality and unusual items that stand out against the mass produced - and because the business owners actually run the shops, we listen to feedback and adapt our offering to reflect what the customer really wants. This face to face interaction is such an important reference to give people what they want. The chains or online stores simply can’t do this.”

Alison has created a window-shopping experience so customers can view and shop her collection safely from the street and collect 15 minutes later: “It’s been such an interesting time and the window shopping experience has worked really well.”