Yesterday presented my first opportunbity since Christmas to complete my younger grandson’s Christmas present, having forgotten a few minor items before the holiday. The said grandson shows some promise (and a lot of enthusiasm) as an artist but, like most nearly-eight-year-olds, he has been painting for a few years with the usual cheap and cheerful materials which are perfectly adequate for total beginners. However, I concluded a while ago that he deserved something better. So at Christmas, daughter Jennie and I set off for a large art and craft superstore on the outskirts of Newport which was expected to stock everything on my shopping list. To my surprise the shop did not have everything on my list but the missing items were few and easily obtained in Cardiff, or so I thought. Despite daughters anxiety to moderate my ambitions I managed to assemble a kit of paints, brushes, pencils and papers of the very brands that I would use, together with a carrying case for convenient storage.
So I set off on my first shopping trip of 2012 with the last of the morning commuters and the other early shoppers, on the half-hour bus journey. I should have known better. Don’t misunderstand me. I have grown to like Cardiff in the short time we have lived here but there are aspects of shopping here which, though doubtless experienced up and down the UK, simply shouldn’t happen in a place that is a capital city. Wales deserves better. Instead of wasting half a day walking from one end of the city centre to the other without finding everything that I wanted – and interrupting the bus journey home to try yet another shop – I should have gone online and bought the lot with half a dozen clicks on the computer. But I am old-fashioned in some respects and like to support local businesses first, where possible, before rushing to the internet, even when those “local” businesses are branches of national chains. At least they contribute to the local economy by employing local people. This preference also harks back to my time in retailing and in running my own shop for a few years.
So what else was needed? Well, a decent soft eraser (rubber, not kneadable and certainly not plastic), a double sharpener catering for pencils of different thicknesses and with its own reservoir for waste shavings), and a tough A3 clipboard. I have found the latter immensely useful as a light, portable worktop which needs little storage space when not in use.
As far as I know, Cardiff city centre has three quite substantial shops selling some combination of stationery and art and craft materials, with a further even larger specialist in art and crafts just a short bus ride away. The double sharpener was easy to find, the soft rubber was in one shop only and the A3 clipboard was not found at all. Later in the day I contacted a major business stationer with a branch in Newport, a few miles away, but apparently they didn’t stock A3 clipboards.
This is a very minor issue in the great scheme of things but I come across examples all too frequently. I had plenty of time on the bus returning home to wonder why retailers are so unimaginative in the extent of the products they sell. Why, for example, did the large branch of a national newsagents/stationers/booksellers devote a display unit some 8-9 feet wide by 5 feet high entirely to soft pencil cases, dozens of which were the same in size and style and differed only in colours – but no clipboards at all. Less than a quarter of that display space could have been used for A3, A4 and A5 clipboards in a variety of styles and materials. Why did one of the major art materials retailers have no identifiable soft rubber erasers, yet found ample space for numerous plastic erasers of various shapes and sizes?
And theres is no point in arguing that no-one makes A3 clipboards or that there is no demand for them. One of the most successful online businesses sells them – and in a variety of materials at that. It doesn’t surprise me that amazon.co.uk is such a success or that the “high street” is fast losing out to online shopping.