Rosa and The Shop

This is a work of fiction. A short story of just over 1500 words.

Rosa had always worked at The Shop. It had been her first job, and she had started there before her sixteenth birthday. It had been called Silvermans back then, and despite many name changes since, she always called it The Shop. Her Mum had taken her to see old Mr Silverman as soon as she left school. She had told him that her Rosa would work hard, and was a fast learner. Mum knew that Mrs Silverman was not a well woman, and someone would be needed to help out when she took to her sickbed.

Rosa was never asked if she wanted to work there of course. But she didn’t mind. Ladies underwear, hosiery, and haberdashery was always in demand, and with normal opening hours, and half-day closing on Wednesdays it would be an easy enough job, she hoped. From the first day, Mr Silverman treated her well, almost like family. He showed her the stock room, and explained the sizes and how to try to sell the customers more than they came in for. “It’s like this, young Rosa. If madam comes in for a new suspender belt, then tell her about the new range of stockings. New suspenders need new stockings, after all.” He would smile and pat her hand. He gave her lots of tips like that, and she soon caught on. At first, he didn’t allow her to cut the lengths of cloth that people bought for dressmaking. He showed her a strip a few inches wide. “See this, young Rosa? Well that’s our profit, so cut this much wrong, and we make nothing.” But before too long he even trusted her with the good cloth, and was happy to leave her alone in the shop when he went to the bank.

Over the years, Rosa more or less took over the running of the place. Mrs Silverman rarely got out of bed, and Mr S, as Rosa called him, was busy with the ordering, the book-keeping, and looking after his wife. She never had to ask for a rise in pay, as there was always something extra every year, starting at Christmas. As Mr S grew old and infirm, he showed Rosa how to deal with the suppliers and the salesmen. He paid a nice lady to do the books, and even suggested that he might employ an assistant to help Rosa manage. But there was no need. “I can cope, Mr S, don’t you worry.” She assured him.

One day after closing time, he asked her to come into the back room. He indicated that she should sit down, and patted her hand as he spoke. “The thing is, Rosa, you know I’m not as young as I was. As for Mrs Silverman, I doubt she’s long for this world. I am afraid we are going to have to sell up.” As Rosa looked down at her shoes, he continued. “But have no fear. The new owner is a very nice man, a Mr Singh. He wants to keep you on, and he has big ideas for the place. He has promised me that you will have a job for as long as you want. Take a week off, and when you come back we will have moved, and he will be up and running.

Rosa walked to the shop on the following Monday. The sight stopped her in her tracks. The name had changed. Silvermans was gone, and a gaudy sign over the door now announced “Buttons and Bows.” The mannequins that once displayed Berlei bras and stockinged legs were gone from the windows, replaced by colourful swirls of cloth, rows of hair clips, buttons on cards, and Alice bands. Inside, the three counters had been replaced by a small desk near the door with a till and a telephone on it. The shelves and drawers that had contained wonderful lingerie were all gone too. Row upon row of metal racks ran around the walls, each with hundreds of small packets hung on hooks. Every packet had a price sticker on it, and hand-written signs displayed special offers because of the new ownership.

Mr Singh seemed nice enough. “Just let people walk around and choose what they want, Rosa. I won’t be here that much, so I will leave it to you. Everything is priced, so just take the money. One of my family will be here every night at closing time to let you go, and to collect the takings, okay?” Rosa nodded. “Oh and if you want to use the toilet, or make a cup of tea, just put that Back in 5 minutes sign on the door. And by the way, we don’t close for lunch or half days anymore.” Then he was gone, and Rosa still had her coat on.

It wasn’t the same. The old customers soon stopped coming, and the new customers complained about the prices, the sizes, or the available colours. Mr Singh wasn’t too interested when she told him this, but he was shocked to see his takings so low at the end of the week. And Rosa was bored. People didn’t stop to chat like they used to, and all she had to do was sit at the small desk, and take the money. Some days, she only served three or four customers, and for the first time the days started to drag.

When Mr Singh told her he was selling after less than a year, she wasn’t at all surprised. The new owner insisted that she had to have an interview. Rosa had never had an interview, and had no idea what even happened in one. Young Mr Kostas was called Young Mr Kostas because his father was called Old Mr Kostas. Rosa didn’t think he looked that young, and imagined that his father must be very old indeed. He asked her a few basic questions, and told her that some things would be changing. “Are you happy to stay on?” He asked. She was. That was it, her first and only interview.

When Rosa went to work the next day, The Shop was now called ‘Bits and Bobs’. At least a counter was back, and she soon got used to the new things being sold. Buckets, plastic kitchen items, toilet brushes, and all sorts of gadgets and small items. Despite the counter being reinstated, she only had to work the till, as everything was priced. She thought the stock was poor, by her estimation. Over-priced tat, was how she described it to Mum when she got home. She wasn’t sure that Mum really knew what she was on about anymore. She didn’t seem much like her old self these days. Customers came and went, but she rarely saw the same ones twice. She understood though. Once bitten, twice shy. Rosa realised why they didn’t come back. Why pay more for something you could get better in any supermarket, for the same price or less?

As she had predicted to Mum, Young Mr Kostas didn’t last long. He soon sold up, this time to Mr and Mrs Yossarian. Rosa had trouble understanding this couple, but she managed to work out that they had two shops, and didn’t seem to be too bothered about this one. They told her that they would be selling electrical goods; batteries, plugs, phone chargers and that sort of thing. They changed the name again, and as usual Rosa didn’t like it. ‘Electrical Essentials’. What sort of name is that? Thought Rosa. She told him honestly. “I don’t know anything about that sort of stock, Mr Yosserian.” He didn’t seem to care. “Don’t worry Rosa, it’s all priced up, all you have to do is take the money. Oh, and by the way, we are now open on Sundays, from ten until four.”

Rosa didn’t try too hard. She didn’t like working on Sundays, for a start. And she couldn’t answer any questions. What did she know about phone chargers, cables, and connections? She didn’t even have a phone, and certainly had no need for connections, of any description. Mr Yosserian looked worried about the takings. After six months, he told Rosa that he would happily give up The Shop, if he could only find someone to take over the rent. “I’ll take it over” she said, to his obvious surprise. He cleared the stock the following week. Rosa went to the bank, and made some arrangements. She got Frank in, from up the road. He put the extra counters back, cleared out the metal shelves and racks, and restored the wooden shelves, drawers, and display cases.

She stayed busy, contacting suppliers and paying up front for stock. She arranged for Frank’s nephew to paint a new sign, and placed a notice in the window. ‘Opening Monday 7th. Under New Ownership’. The mannequins were back, corsets and bras in place. She managed to get four legs for the side window, and adorned them with various types of tights and stockings. As she walked up to The Shop on the 7th, she was bursting with pride. She looked at the name over the door, and knew that she had finally arrived.

In stylish italics, white paint over sky blue, it read ‘Rosa’s’.

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21 thoughts on “Rosa and The Shop

    1. Thanks very much, David. Sometimes small details are necessary, i believe. I wanted to paint a picture of the same small shop changing over the years. I knew many such places from my youth, so I just had to rely on my memory.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  1. Good for her! There are so few of the old shops that knew about the products they sold left… In Barcelona they put a plaque on the floor when the same shop has been in place for over a hundred years (well or commercial establishment, even it it’s a restaurant or a bar), but so many of the old ones have disappeared now…

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  2. Pete, what a delightful story and I love how the progression from old to new never found a good fit. Always a delight to find that old is new again and always a better fit…. I found myself at the very end before I was ready to let go.. I wished there were more and more pages to read as I was totally into this tale… Great Post .. give me more please sir….

    Take care, Laura

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  3. Show them that Rosa’s would win back the customers. Having a personal touch would always be helpful. Small enterprises are now being eaten up by large dept. stores/supermarkets.

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  4. Well done, Pete. I was hoping she’d get there and she did although as you say she’s up against it on the high street. I like the descriptions of the old shop and ‘Buttons and Bows’ brought back memories of Paleface! (and Frasier singing it and forgetting the words in a charity event)! cheers

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    1. Thanks, Rich. I saw a shop once called just that, selling the similar tat. It was on a street corner in some northern town/city, when I was a sales rep. (Leeds, I think) It looked like the stock had been there forever, and had that yellow covering on the windows, to stop the sun bleaching the display. My Mum used to go to a shop just like ‘Silvermans’ when I was very young, and I remember the displays as I described them in the story.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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    1. I wanted to write a ‘happy-ending’ story, Eddy. But of course it isn’t, as Rosa’s underwear business is doomed to fail, in a market dominated by the high street chains. At least she got to be the boss in the end.
      Cheers, Pete.

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