The ‘new normal’ shopping experience is a bombardment of signs, rules, stickers, posters and plastic screens. Necessary, practical, but not in any way beautiful.
As more retailers start to reopen after lockdown, the usual approach of cheap functionality over aesthetics was never going to sit comfortably with one Perthshire businesswoman.
Michelle Maddox owns Clootie McToot in Abernethy, the world’s only shop and café wholly dedicated to the traditional Scottish dessert, the clootie dumpling.
She has put her heart and soul into making sure every detail is perfect for her premises in a converted horse barn located a few metres from the iconic Abernethy Round tower.
Ruining the look of her shop with an assortment of laminated posters was never going to do.
The business closed completely in March and as Michelle contemplated reopening her thoughts turned to the uplifting Second World War poster with a woman showing her muscles with the message – We Can Do It!
“I thought it was the perfect message for 2020 as well,” she said.
“I realised that we too are living through a period that will be history in 15 to 20 years’ time.
“It made me want to meet everything required to reopen, but do it in an attractive way, that looks like it has been part of the shop for years.”
Michelle hired a traditional sign writer to paint ‘We Can Do It – Social Distancing 2020’ onto the floor.
For the plastic screen at the counter she employed husband Alasdair to make a frame out of an oak beam that complements the rest of the shop.
“We are going to permanently keep the signs,” Michelle said.
“Our business is all about heritage and history and we are living through a piece of history.”
The shop has also made one of its windows into a collection hatch for people who do not wish to go inside.
Clootie McToot has also invested heavily in a new air filtration system to give customers confidence to return, with hand sanitising stations throughout.
“The changes we’ve made have cost thousands, but my clientele want to be able to walk into a shop with confidence,” she said.
The foundation of the business started in 2016 when Michelle’s son asked her if she would bake and have a stall at his local school fete.
She made her dumplings with her family recipe, with mixed fruit, lemon zest, cinnamon, ginger and mixed spice and they were a huge hit.
After finding success at farmers markets, the shop opened in May 2018, a full year after the premises were purchased. The finishing touch was a commercial viewing kitchen in October.
In a short time Michelle had grown a business with seven staff that produces more than 20,000 clootie dumplings a year.
She decided to completely stop production and furlough all her staff in March. After a deep clean production started again this week.
The shop reopens today, with the café scheduled to open towards the end of July, but Michelle admits she is anxious whether her loyal customers – the Clootie Clan – will return.
“The business had been doing really well until Covid – nostalgia brings in a lot of people, some people have heard of the clootie dumpling but never tried one,” she said.
“Then I’ll get people who come in to do the workshops because they want to learn how to make it the proper traditional way.
“We sell kits and a lot of young people come in for the range of flavoured dumplings.
“But the truth is we have no idea if anybody is going to turn up when we open again.
“I just hope people support us.”