The Thai Gift Shop is closing down…
On the 1st July 2009 my mum’s Thai Gift Shop in Manchester will be closing its doors for the last time!
My family opened the shop in 1988. We’d moved up to Manchester from Totnes (a sleepy, slightly hippy town in the South of England) and with the little money my parents had saved up we managed to put down 2 months rent and deposit on a small basement space underneath a highstreet bank. I have a vague recollection of seeing the place for the first time as a child. We’d only had it for a few days at that point; it was dark, damp and cold; my mum and dad were sweeping up the tiled floors under the dim light of a single lightbulb powered by a car battery. It certainly didn’t look like much then!
In a matter of weeks though that would all change. My dad is one of those incredibly practical and resourceful types from a previous and now lost generation; from a time when men were expected to be able to do anything. Plastering? Check. Wall papering? Check. Construction of a complete hair salon with mirrors and hair-wash basins? Check. Haha. And my mum, well she is and has always been the inspiration; she has this inate and boundless creative energy; she’s fiery at times but she has exactly the kind of passion and vision you need to turn a spark into a flame and a disused, forgotten basement into something special.
Fast forward some 20 years and it has become exactly that. Situated between Manchester Chinatown (the second largest Chinatown in the UK and the third largest in Europe) and the bustling gay village this little shop has survived earthquakes and bombs, become a regular haunt for locals and visitors to the city alike and supplied various products for fashion shows, theatre productions, TV programs and even Hollywood films (most recently for the new Sherlock Holmes movie!). We do so many things at the shop that I sometimes forget myself what’s on offer. My parents taught me that you have to improvise when you’re a small business because trends come and go but the rent still needs to be paid! So it’s grown from being a hair salon with a few ornamental pieces for sale to an Aladdin’s cave filled to the brim with Oriental clothes, pictures and accessories. Over the years we’ve also offered a whole range of services: from haircutting to Far East language services, from Thai dancing to traditional Thai massage. You name it, we’ve probably done it here!
But as they say, all good things must come to an end. My mum’s retiring this year, my sister wants to pursue pastures new and I am making headway with the music career so there’s nobody here to carry on the business. In some ways it’s a shame because it really has become a special place. There’s a sign in the Hard Rock Cafe which says ‘Love all, serve all’ – that sign has always reminded me of our own little shop shop. In an average day there you’ll come across so many different characters; all of them encouraged to mingle and help each other out; gay people, straight people, martial artists, dancers, chefs, artists, chinese people, thai, english, vietnamese…a whole host of languages and cultures all thrown together happily. I’ll miss that variety and craziness! I suspect the next few days will be quite emotional for everyone. There will definitely be some tears but we take with us lots of fond memories and a lot of good friends that we’ve made along the way.
If you happen to be in Manchester this next week please pop in and see us. We’re at 56 Portland Street and there are lots of bargains to be snapped up before we go: Chinese dresses, Japanese kimonos, Thai handicrafts and many other things. I really hope to see you there one last time.