It’s all fun and games
The Northern Times contributor Matilda Siebrecht continues her series on local businesses. This time, she looks at how important, and useful shopping local is for gift and games shops
By Matilda Siebrecht
Everyone has someone in their family that is impossible to buy presents for. You brainstorm what seems like hours, huffing and frowning and asking yourself “but would they really like that?” Just as you’re about to give up and get them a book voucher – you would get them a book but who knows what kind of literature they’re into? – a lightbulb clicks on. What if there were a shop that was completely dedicated to gifts, games, and general goodwill?
Luckily for you, there are many of these kinds of shops in Groningen, spread throughout the city centre. The choice of gifts within are sure to satisfy even the pickiest of gift receivers, ranging from cute little kitchen nick-nacks to journaling and scrapbooking supplies. One example is the aptly named Kadocafe (“gift cafe”), which started out as a small gift-shop in a nearby village before moving to Groningen three years ago. As well as selling gifts, the Kadocafe is also the largest tea retailer in the northern Netherlands, with over 400 different kinds of tea stacked to the roof (and available to purchase from their online tea cabinet). They are now an established feature on the Folkingestraat – voted best shopping street in 2014 – alongside many other shops selling unique and interesting gift ideas.
And even better, the majority of these shops are small businesses, which means that by shopping there you won’t just be helping yourself and your awkward-gift-choice relative, but also the local Groningen community. “Shopping small helps to preserve the knowledge, choice, and conviviality of the city,” says Kim Hoetjes-Mulders, owner of WirWar games shop. “Small companies are often more committed to the city. We are so grateful that people want to shop with use, so we like to give things back to the city.” For example, WirWar is part of the Oude Kijk street association, which decorates the street with ribbons and umbrellas every summer, and the shop also organises a local board game fair in the Aa Kerk (www.noorderspel.nl).
As we’ve hopefully demonstrated by now throughout this article series, the experience of shopping small is a rewarding and personal one. “I think in the future there will be a market for smaller retailers with specific and artisanal products,” says Roy Fernhout, owner of the Kadocafe. “Our customers still need to relax. Smaller companies act more on personal communication, so the customer can feel a bigger appreciation and bond with us.” This bond is even stronger with shops that have been established for a longer time. “I think we are a kind of ‘home’ for some people,” agrees Hoetjes-Mulder. “We know the regular customers, and they know us. It’s so unbelievably nice to watch a games fanatic grow up over the years and then later come to show us their own baby. Those moments are really the icing on the cake for us.”
Another important advantage of small businesses is the sense of community amongst the employees, compared to the coldness and often misuse of workers at larger corporations. For example, the group at WirWar have remained close ever since the shop was first started by Willeke Christiaans in 1992. “Willeke wanted to start a store where adults felt comfortable looking for a game, and it was a success from the start,” remembers Hoetjes-Mulder, who started taking over ownership of the games shop in 2011. “We worked together until 2015 and during that period we really became family. Most of the employees have been there for 20 years!”
Flexibility is another key aspect of small businesses, and the reason why they have managed to pull through the last few months. The Kadocafe managed to stay afloat when they were forced to close their physical shop thanks mainly to their online tea cabinet, and are now making sure that their store is festively decorated with a traditional Christmas atmosphere to encourage customers to visit them in person. WirWar is part of the Warenhuis Groningen website, which is an online partnership between 200 local entrepreneurs. If you order an item from any of these small businesses through the website before 3pm, it will be delivered to you by bicycle courier on the same day. And for those die-hard board game fans who still want to visit the physical shop, their strict 6-client policy is made more enjoyable to wait in line for by the weekly riddles and puzzles taped to the pavement in front of the door.
So do not despair when the moment of inspiration eludes you! A quick visit to one of your local gift and games shops will be sure to provide that perfect gift for the person who seems to have it all. And even if you don’t find something for them, I’m sure that you’ll be tempted to buy something for yourself… Go on, you’ve earned it. It’s 2020 after all!
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