Don't just go online - take a stroll along the High Street

  • The Toy Shop Moreton in Marsh
  • The Toy Shop Moreton in Marsh
  • The Toy Shop Moreton in Marsh

How the traditional, family-run Toy Shop in Moreton in Marsh attracts both Cotswold residents and visitors alike to its Aladdin's cave of a store - and flies the flag for supporting high street retail rather than online shopping

When Helen and Paul Jeffrey’s family first set up their beautiful traditional toy shop in Moreton in Marsh over fifty years ago, the world of retail was a very different place indeed. At the time, just like every other town in the North Cotswolds, the town was blessed with busy streets full of friendly family-run businesses that provided for every daily need from greengrocers to butchers and bakers, ironmongers and haberdashery (if not perhaps, by this day and age, many candlestick makers).  

By the mid 1980s there were emerging signs that wholesale change was imminent, and a decade later estate agent Martin Elliot was moved to open protest by the arrival of Tesco, but at the end of the twentieth century the attractions of this beautiful part of the world were still defined as much by the character of our high streets and cornucopia of independent retailers, as by the chocolate box charm of our villages.

However, as the millennium turned so Tesco turned out to be a comparatively benign threat, at least compared with the double blows upon our market squares that were to come, first with the inexorable rise of online shopping then by the most savage recession for nearly a century - when for a while, at least, it seemed the only survivors on our streets might be charity shops.

Of course, we cannot behave like King Canute nor indulge in sentimentality for the way things used to be - the march of time cannot be held back and progress is inevitable. Day-to-day life, although not so cosy or so insular, is certainly different but generally easier in so many ways than it was in the good old days.

The internet has undoubtedly wrought the biggest change to our high streets but has also revitalised those rural villages whose existence - as anything other than second home retreats, at least - had, by the mid-1990s, been seriously in doubt. 

Now, these lovely satellites of our market towns have been re-populated by thriving, invested families often of erstwhile second-homers, those London city dwellers who once would have bought a weekend cottage but have moved here full time, now needing to commute just once in a while back to town.

The truth is that change is inevitable and for any business of any size, anywhere, complacency is far the bigger villain to survival than progress. To survive and prosper, businesses must anticipate and embrace change.

Keeping tradition alive

Helen and Paul’s Toy Shop represents a handful of second and third generation businesses here in the North Cotswolds whose tenacious and determined owners have managed through sheer hard work, reputation and intelligent thinking to meet all the challenges that modern life has thrown at them and continue still to thrive, despite that onslaught of inevitable change. Their toy shop is a marvellous thing, an anachronism fit for the twenty-first century.

The North Cotswold community should – and does - embrace everything it stands for: a former seventeenth century Grade II coaching inn that is now a veritable emporium, stocking thousands of individually selected, traditional, quality-made goods from over one hundred and fifty suppliers, nine rooms bursting at the seams with the stuff of every conceivable children’s wish list from dolls’ houses to airguns, from puzzles to penknives, suiting every budget from pocket-money purchasers to the most indulgent of grandparents.

The toy shop prospers not only because we recognise it is a jewel in the crown of our local community and as such a rare place to treasure, but also because the owners have ensured its survival by continuing to provide what this community needs and wants, no more so than today.

Now we are emerging from the recession wiser and re-calibrated, necessity has meant that we have found the time and the goodwill to embrace post-materialistic values. The way we buy, as well as where, is just as important as our means to buy here in the North Cotswolds, because we realise what is important to our wider, communal happiness and sense of wellbeing.

We embrace personal, knowledgeable service offered by businesses with an equally invested relationship in our community; we appreciate being served good things by our neighbours and friends. We know it’s not expensive, in the wider context, even if it costs a little more.

We take time to consider the genuine pleasure that our independent high streets bring to our daily lives and succumb less often to the quick and easy, cheap homogeneity of big businesses that actually threaten to take away what it really means to live in the North Cotswolds.

To ensure that we do remain “a nation of shopkeepers” as Bonaparte once described us, there is no better way to protect our precious way of life than simply to take a walk along our local high street, instead of simply going online.