Glastonbury’s Smallest Department Store

Even Glastonbury can seem dull and grey on a cold November morning when the Winter light bleaches all the colour from the Town. On days like these, we need reminders of sunshine. As I pass through the narrow alleyway of the Gauntlet, the rainbow colours of the crockery in Steve and Jan’s shop always catch my eye. I’m reminded of a Winter I spent in Andalusia in Southern Spain, where these jugs, bowls and dishes are made.

Steve and Jan's Shop in Glastonbury Town's Gauntlet Arcade

Popping into the shop, for a pair of tights or a gift, I’ve always received a friendly welcome and inevitably ended up in a conversation. Steve and Jan display a genuine warmth and interest in their customers and the community. They tell me they started off with one tiny unit in the Gauntlet ‘Steve and Jan’s Mini Emporium’ but have expanded to three shops selling clothes, ceramics, kitchenware, tights, bags and scarves, The new outlets are ‘Socks, Crocks and Frocks’ and ‘Our Other Shop Ltd’. They joke that they are running ‘Glastonbury’s Smallest Department Store’.

They were keen to offer one essential item – pants. Jan tells me “We’re sinking the myth that you can’t buy knickers in Glastonbury!”. They thought about calling the clothes shop ‘Pants on Fire’.

Jan first came to Glastonbury in 1985, as Purchasing Manager for a large printing business. She has also worked in the construction industry, including 7 years at Glastonbury firm Snows Timber. Steve moved to Somerset in 1993. He’d not heard of Glastonbury but found himself drawn to the town. They met in 2001 when Steve was working for a large building materials supplier and fell in love over a conversation about insulation materials. This must have kept the warmth in as they married a year later.

They started off their business doing markets, selling Steve’s homemade preserves, bread and cakes, then they added ceramics and kitchenware. Steve loves Spanish ceramics (each village has its own style) and olive wood. They were thinking to do more markets, but Jan’s sewing business was taking off and they realised it was cheaper to take on a shop. Facetious as usual,  I asked them why they weren’t selling crystals, unlike most of the shops in town. They explained they ‘aren’t really new agers’ but are more interested in the ‘pretty and the practical’.

The clothes they stock are made locally by Jan, Vivienne and Marie, others are ‘pre-loved’, fair trade Indian and Italian and French fashion. They cater for everyone, but the layered style of the Italian designs are flattering for the ‘larger lady’. They also sell moccasin slippers that are made in Glastonbury, men’s clothes and will soon have a range for children.

The Glastonbury  Cancer Research Shop 2019 Calendar

Steve appears naked, but for a carefully placed jug, in the Glastonbury Cancer Research shop’s 2019 charity calendar. Jan volunteered Steve, and the shop, to appear, then presented it to him as a fait accompli. The photo shoot was at 7.30am on a Sunday morning, it amused Steve that passing locals “didn’t bat an eyelid” at the 15 naked men and a Stormtrooper gathered in front of the Cancer Research charity shop.

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Why Glastonbury?

Steve and Jan love being part of a town with a High Street full of independent retailers, “Most small towns are bland and soulless in comparison”. They also feel that Glastonbury’s locals and visitors are refreshingly aspirational – “everyone is looking for the solution to their problems, their ‘pot of gold’”. They are proud to live somewhere where over 70 different belief systems are practised, that has visitors from every corner of the world. Jan speaks German, French, Italian and Russian and is studying Spanish, she enjoys chatting with customers in their own language. Not to be outdone, Steve points out he is fluent in Brummie and doesn’t need subtitles for Peaky Blinders.

They are both interested in the spiritual and the unexplained. Steve feels energy and Jan did a course in Parapsychology with Serena Roney-Dougal. Jan is drawn to Dion Fortune, Steve is more drawn to football, cider and Led Zeppelin. With so much to do running the business seven days a week, they don’t get a lot of time to develop their interests.

The Glastonbury Community

Steve has been on the Assembly Rooms Committee for 3 years and is now Treasurer, bringing his business acumen to the aid of this important community building. He tells me they are looking to re-launch in 2020, bringing a more diverse programme of entertainment, including theatre productions and classical music to the town.

I spot a tin for the Glastonbury Community Christmas Lunch on the counter,  Steve has recently become involved, last year over 240 people who would have otherwise not had a ‘Christmas Experience’ got together in the Town Hall. Steve is also keen to become actively involved in helping the homeless in the town. We chat about the recent outrage over anti-social behaviour in Glastonbury during Summer and the consequent bad publicity. Steve is forthright on the issue “The BBC presented Glastonbury as an urban wasteland – which is completely and utterly false. I hate the way people are demonized, they may live chaotic lifestyles and be a nuisance, but they are human beings

Jan has volunteered with the Credit Union and the RSPCA but now finds herself too busy with the shops.  she’s even had to close the sewing business in order to search for quirky stuff to sell. Like other Glastonbury businesses, they are keen to minimise their environmental impact. I notice there is little plastic packaging in the shop, Steve and Jan tell me they recycle everything they can. The three pairs of knickers I buy (which cost me the grand sum of £4.50 and, I can happily report, are very comfortable) are popped into a paper bag.

Glastonbury resident Nikki pops into the shop:

“Oh My God! You’ve got knickers! Have you anything sensible for children? I nearly left Glastonbury when my 6-year-old refused to wear elf outfits anymore.”

It’s clear that Steve and Jan’s business and their passion for the community are intertwined, “A business is about touching as many people as you can, it doesn’t matter if they are spending £1 or £50. We are serving local people what they want, not just chasing the tourist buck. Our local customers are important to us, we need to be trading successfully in January, not just in Summer”. There’s something reassuringly old-fashioned about Steve and Jan’s attitude toward business, customer service and community.

Before I leave Steve tells me:

I’ve been normalized to Glastonbury. It happened by degrees. I don’t even notice bizarrely dressed people in the High Street anymore, but I notice people noticing”.

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This post was kindly commissioned by Steve and Jan. Text and photographs copyright Vicki Steward.

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