Colourful baby clothing displayed hanging on a washing line across the old brick wall of Moo Like a Monkey shop premises.
Moo Like a Monkey, in the Folkestone Creative Quarter, operates from a historic building on the Old High Street. © Lou Johnson
Moo Like a Monkey, in the Folkestone Creative Quarter, operates from a historic building on the Old High Street. © Lou Johnson

Life in a Historic Shop: Moo Like a Monkey

By Charlotte Khan, Owner of Moo Like a Monkey, Folkestone Creative Quarter

My shop, Moo Like a Monkey, had been open a couple of months when I had a phone call from my landlord, saying my window had been smashed and asking if I could come to the shop straight away. I wondered if my business would survive, if my insurance would cover it and what I would do. When I arrived all my neighbours, other shop owners on the Old High Street, were there. They supported me with coffee, cake and stories of when their own windows had been smashed over the years. Straight away someone was there to fix the window.

The first people that came said they couldn’t repair the glass; it would have to be a custom piece. We tried a few different companies but the only person who could do it was a local craftsman, who was an expert on stained glass and restoration. He knew the shop fronts on this street and had worked on them before. Fixing the window was expensive, but I love the wonky frame and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The features of the Old High Street are a real draw to tourists and locals alike. They’re part of what really makes this area work. In my shop, the low ceilings, flagstone floors and hefty wooden beams aren’t annoyances, they’re unique features that support my brand. I have filled the shop with old furniture, which both suits the building and my sustainable ethos.

The restoration and regeneration of Folkestone, particularly the Creative Quarter where the Old High Street is located, is down to the charitable foundation Creative Folkestone. The focus of the regeneration has been on developing the area into a creative hub.

Since restoring the derelict properties, Creative Folkestone own around 90 of the properties in the area and, with the exception of some cafes and restaurants, they are rented to artists and creative businesses. They interview potential business tenants and review their business plans so they can ensure the businesses complement one another, this way they can effectively curate the street.

The main town centre is only a three or four minute walk away, but if my business was based there, in a modern shop unit, the atmosphere and overall customer experience would be dramatically different. On a cobbled high street in Folkestone's Creative Quarter, with all its original shop fronts, there’s an expectation of a certain type of shop: independent, honest, creative businesses. The street itself has become a destination for people looking for boutique shops and art galleries. This location has a huge impact on the success of the business.

I don't believe my business would work in the town centre for this reason. The town centre has a number of long term empty units, the rents are high, and it seems as if landlords aren't keen enough to fill them. It's a stark contrast to the Old High Street which has waiting lists for businesses wanting units on the street.

People walk down the street and peer into my window, then come in for a chat. Many come in to talk about the history of the shop and what it used to be when they were little. Just before I arrived it had been a dress makers. It was also once a small cafe. I often hear about how long it sat derelict and empty.

The bricks and mortar of the place, its ties to the past, give integrity and weight to a little independent shop that more than just underpins my business on the Old High Street; it also supports my brand online. I use imagery of the shop online to counter the often bland and anonymous experience of online shopping. I feel very lucky to have my little shop with wonky windows on the Old High Street. I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather be.

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