Grace Brothers revisited

Today saw my regular monthly expedition to Bristol to catch up with friends and colleagues whilst I'm on my career break. As well as catching up on all the gossip, it gave me the chance to visit one of my favourite stores, that veritable Bristolian institution, Gardiner Haskins.

The Gardiner's part was founded in 1823, supplying ironmongery and metal work, why even Brunel shopped there during his time in Bristol. Now it describes itself as a Homestore, and I particularly love it there as it sits in its own timewarp, harking back to the days of 'Are you Being Served?'. The basement alone is worth a visit as there's always a number of bargain bins to rifle through, often stuffed to the gills with totally unexpected goods - for example, snowman covered miniature hot water bottles. They've proved to be a rich seam to mine for (un)suitable gifts for the annual office Secret Santa.

As usual, the woman hovering in the entrance didn't give me one of her 'Get your conservatory/double glazing here' leaflets. I find this really intriguing - do I look like I'm unlikely to buy it, or has the company in question decided that a more softly softly approach will get them more sales? Anyway, it seems to fit with the store's ethos. However, the usual 70s hits background muzak (featuring a cover version of Chicory Tip, no less, why not go the whole hog and play the original I say) had given way to something more cool, hip and trendy - 1930s torch songs. I'm sure this was unintentional, they've probably been playing them all these years and the rest of the world's caught on again. The Brunel Rooms section was offering both late Autumn bargains (mainly garden furniture) and half price Christmas decorations, so how could I resist such a mix of seasonal goods on offer? Whilst browsing there, I was also charmed to see a handwritten note pinned to a number of the shelves - 'Smile you're on CCTV'. I did, and I giggled a lot too.

I've been looking for a Christmas Nativity Scene for 2 years now, so why didn't I look in Gardiner's earlier? There it was, the perfect candidate for my Christmas hearth. Now I normally have a 'Bah Humbug!' approach to Christmas, insisting that the event is reserved for consideration during December only, not from August as the retail industry expects us to. However, I've made an exception today and bought the last one - apart from the display model, so get in there quickly! Some raffia and Boltac Grease Bands, completed my purchases, so I'm a happy bunny now.

The other really great part about Gardiner's is their car park. You can get 1 hour's parking for free just by going into the store and getting your ticket stamped by one of the friendly staff. Spend £10 or more and you get 3 hours free parking right in the heart of Bristol, plus a friendly wave from the car park man on duty as you leave. I'm sure the car park is the secret of Gardiner's continued success, so maybe they're more business savvy and not so old fashioned as the picture I've portrayed here - they do have a website after all.

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