Oamaru shoppers urged to think local

Sew things. . . Enhancer owner Val Hill fears she’ll have to close her store if it doesn’t sell out soon. PHOTO: ASHLEY SMYTH

Savvy consumers may end up with bare coils if Oamaru’s Enhance closes.

Owner Val Hill, who had been told by family and friends it was time to retire, had the Thames St store on the market for about three months, she said.

“I don’t want to close it, but I won’t stay here forever.”

Ms. Hill had run Enhance since 2007, first in partnership and then on her own for 10 years.

The boutique was the only place in town where you could buy buttons, she said.

It also stocked patterns and supplies for crafts such as knitting, crocheting and embroidery, as well as a selection of haberdashery.

The business was a natural fit for Ms. Hill, who has always had a strong affinity for all things craft and was a longtime member of the North Otago Embroiderer’s Guild.

”It’s a good product to sell. I couldn’t sell rubber boots, for example.

”Ever since I was little, I was taught to crochet, to knit, to sew – all those things. It’s something I grew up with, I guess.

She described the business as “tactile”, which made her reluctant to take it online. Colors looked different on each computer and people couldn’t touch what they were buying.

“The internet has no physical connection. ”

It also lacked the one-to-one interaction and guidance Ms Hill could offer her in-store customer base.

”Also, how to buy a tape measure online, and what is it for?”

However, she thought whoever bought the company would probably put it online.

”But I mean, we have people walking into the store saying they bought something on the internet, they don’t understand it, it’s not what they wanted. . .So this is really a catch-22.”

While the Covid-19 lockdowns seemed to have created something of a renaissance in craftsmanship, Enhance hadn’t reaped the rewards. Customers were mostly older and reluctant to go out and shop.

Although the company hasn’t struggled, it “certainly isn’t as good as it could be.”

Buying locally meant customers received personalized service, and store staff were often willing to go the extra mile.

”I was taught that when I started in retail, when I was 13, my boss at the time always dictated that if we didn’t know an answer, we a) asked or b) we were finding someone else who could help us – or direct the person,” Ms Hill said.

She rarely shopped out of town.

”I buy locally. If I can’t buy locally, I ask.”

If people weren’t using Enhance, it would be another lost store on the high street, she said.

“So there’s nowhere to buy even a spool of cotton, or a button.

”That’s one of the reasons I really don’t want to close the business, because I feel a loyalty to the North Otago public. Over the years they have been good to me.”

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