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Recent passers-by will have noticed, a beautifully calligraphed poem in the window – and a definite lack of presents through the window of the much-loved shop “The Present” at the Hadley end of the High Street.

A planned month-long retirement sale, was such a resounding success that the shop was cleared out in just four days! A testimony to both the enduring popularity of the business – a stalwart of the high street for twenty years, and the quality of the products sold. Barnet Society was grateful for the now retired-owner, Louise taking some time to speak to us on the shop, her future and the future of our high street.

Happily, retirement in this case, does not involve the loss of a familiar face from Barnet. Louise will still be living above the shop – and as someone who is passionate about local businesses will still be seen around the high street a lot!

I asked Louise about her immediate plans for the future:

When you run your own business you don’t have time for really simple things so am looking forward to that - taking my time food shopping rather than grabbing the first thing I see - walking- meeting friends for coffee- taking my Mum out - I was very fit and a good swimmer when I was younger so my big goal is to swim again and try and get fitter! - I adore swimming in the sea so that’ll definitely be happening! I am also enjoying having a big clear out at home - enjoying my home space is something I’ve not had time for in a long while so I’m really excited about that! I’d like to explore London a bit more- I’ll be jumping on a tube and just seeing where it takes me.

Although sometimes maligned, I personally have found the High Street to be a busy and friendly place. Louise concurs noting that “my heart sinks when people run it down as my experience of having a shop here has been so positive”.

I asked her to describe some of her favourite memories from The Present, which were varied and numerous.

She describes the opening day as an amazing moment for her, seeing it all come together as a magical moment after months of planning and being covered in paint! And talks with pride of winning the Progressive Gifts award for Best Independent Gift Retailer inside the M25, and recalling the unforgettable experience of attending the award ceremony.

As a presence on the high street for over twenty years, she’s grateful for her customers: loyal, supportive and just THE BEST!

She thanks the wonderful staff, many of whom she’s watch grow up and spread their wings and is emphasises they are all part of The Present Story.

present staff

Touchingly her most special memories are family ones “my Dad popping up to see me. I learnt alot about running a business from him. He and my Mum lent us the deposit to buy the building and he was my anchor and my strength through some hard times. He loved seeing the success of the shop and would come up and sit by the counter and we’d have tea and croissants. He died a couple of years ago and even though it was like someone taking the rug out from under my feet I did not fall because of the strength he gave me and the lessons he taught me.”

Despite the pandemic, and all the palaver surrounding it, we’ve seen some great new arrivals: Botannika, Nkora, Barnet Hardware to name but a few – and there seem to be more businesses arriving soon. I asked Louise what she perceived as the biggest challenges to the high street.

Positively, she sees the future of the high street of one for the independents. Shops that specialise and know their stuff. She remarks “People often said when they came in ‘I’ve no idea what I’m looking  for but  I know I’ll find it in here’”.

From the perspective of the aesthetics of the high street – she notes that a more coordinated and attractive approach to shop frontages wouldn’t go amiss.

Situated opposite the always-busy Huddle Café, the departure of The Present from the high street leaves a gap, ready to be filled. Clearly conscious of the other businesses nearby – and not wanting to ‘step on their toes’ she is keen to let the unit to a retailer. She has had a few inquiries and no doubt we will find out more in due course!

I remark that her decision to retire has shown an outpouring of love and affection that we last saw when the Victoria Bakery closed. As someone who occasionally toys with the idea of starting their own business, I note that her twenty years of success and a lot of love from the local community is something to aspire to.

I ask her some advice for anyone thinking about starting out with an independent on the high street as she did twenty years ago:

Don’t do it because you’re bored and want a hobby - go in prepared to give it your all - hard work, attention to detail, passion, energy, enthusiasm, be prepared to be flexible and change with trends/what’s right for your customer base, keep your door open, smile a lot and you have to be a people person! It’s incredibly rewarding and running my own business has given me confidence, strength, pride and an amazing sense of achievement. Do it!!