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A Fond Farewell to Karen

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Karen Ayris 01

Karen Ayris is handing over her Blooming Fruity greengrocer business in the next few days, and she will be a sad loss to the village. We took the opportunity to have chat with this lovely lady.

Karen has been running Blooming Fruity on Banks Parade in Haddenham for the last 15 years. During that time she has built a loyal following of customers and a wide circle of friends, not least the grateful group of elderly and immobile residents to whom Karen has made personal deliveries of fruit and vegetables.

Karen first arrived in Haddenham 18 years ago and worked for 'Bella' (Terry) Cobb for about three years before he opened a second shop in Chinnor. She then rented the Haddenham shop from him for about a year. Richard Skingle purchased the Haddenham premises in 2004 and Karen has been his tenant since then.

The Greatest Pleasures
Karen speaks very enthusiastically about her customers. "The people have been been the greatest pleasure for me in all the 18 years I have been here. Despite the ups and downs of the economy, when business has reflected national challenges, I've always had a loyal group of people who have continued to be supportive. While we've never made a massive profit, we've always ticked over and I am very grateful for the local support I've enjoyed over the years. We've paid our bills, employed local people and we've never been in debt. Perhaps, as the village grows, the business will grow also and the new owner can continue to enjoy the loyalty of my long-term customers while building new ones".

It's been hard work
Running a good quality greengrocers is no walk in the park. Karen goes to market on two days per week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. She goes to Weston International Market, which is based near Heathrow and she rises from her bed at 1.15am to prepare for those trips, having gone to bed by about 9.00pm the night before. In previous times Karen also used to buy her flowers and plants at the same location, but more recently these items are no longer sold there and she has to make separate trips to independent wholesalers. So the latest Karen gets up on any work day is 4.30am! "Yes", she agrees, "it's very hard work!"

Local deliveries
Karen has always been responsive to requests from local folk who are unable to get out and about, and has made personal deliveries to their homes. "My elderly customers are always so grateful for this personal service and I get to meet some lovely people" says Karen. "But just occasionally I do feel sorry for a few who are very lonely and I seem to be their only visitor over an extended period. Understandably they are keen to invite me in for a cup of tea and have a chat, and I do my best to spend time with them — but I also have other customers and the shop to attend to, so I can feel rather torn at times, trying to juggle my working day."

Ticket Sales Superstar!
Blooming Fruity is well known as the universal ticket office for events in Haddenham and Karen has always been happy to offer this service to local organisations. She recalls: "The first group to ask us to sell tickets was Haddenham Players, I believe, many years ago. These days we sell tickets for everybody ... even those that don't think to ask first! It does create a little more work for me and my staff as the monies have to be kept separate and can't go through the shop till — and this can sometimes add pressure when there's a queue of customers. But we do our best to please everyone."

"And for several years we were the biggest seller of tickets for the Haddenham Beers Festivals. Some of that has now transferred to online ticket sales, but it always used to amuse me to see a continuous stream of people walking from the station, snaking into Banks Parade to buy their tickets from us, and then back to the path en route to the Beer Festival!"

Competing with the supermarkets
"My approach has always been to offer a local service, with good quality, and very fresh fruit and veg. Customers can pop in a buy just one or two items, and it doesn't have to be all pre-packed. We've tried to eliminate as much plastic packaging as we possibly can, all the bags etc, and that has been appreciated in this modern world. And new arrivals to the village come in and are delighted to find that Haddenham has an independent greengrocers given that so many have now disappeared from the high streets in towns"

The Biggest Challenge?
"In the last year or so, since the village hall car parking arrangements changed, the shops have suffered on Banks Parade. Traditionally my busiest days were on Thursdays and Fridays. But now many of my customers — and especially the elderly who cannot walk here — are unable to park their cars in Banks Parade as there are so many people parking here to visit their regular exercise sessions in the village hall or at the gym. Monday mornings are also extremely busy with cars parked for this reason. I'm not sure what can be done about it, but it seriously effects our businesses on Banks Parade. Perhaps those going to exercise classes might be better encouraged to walk and cycle to those classes and use it as a warm-up and cool-down process? For a local greengrocers, the option for local customers to park up, pop into the shop for a few items, and then get on with their day was a major asset in being able to compete with the large supermarkets. It seems rather unfair."

New Business Owner
Karen has sold Blooming Fruity to Sally Miles, who lives in Aylesbury but her family are long-term residents of Haddenham. "Sally's father may be remembered by some as 'Froggy Miles! Sally is a bubbly, enthusiastic and friendly character who has lots of experience in a direct customer serving role. Debbie and Jane are staying on as staff. Sally has been to market with me and shadowed me on all the deliveries, so she is well prepared to take over Blooming Fruity and I think she will do very well here."

The Haddenham community wish Karen well in her new chapter in life. Her regular customers will miss her greatly and we are all indebted to her for the contribution she has made to village life.