I Thank You - Amy's Story

by David Ellis

When I was a nipper, one of the great delights in my life was stopping off at Amy’s shop on the way home after school.

Amy ran a corner shop, strategically placed for both St. Josephs, which was just across the road, and St. John’s School which I attended about 1000 yards closer to the Town center.

Very much in the idiom of Ronnie Barkers homepage to local shopkeepers, Amy’s shop was indeed ‘Open all Hours’ and for Workington 1965, something of a revelation.

One year after opening the town was buzzing when Walter Witton opened the very first supermarket in town and we had had to wait until the mid seventies before we got our first elevator in the resplendent new Woolworths on Murray Road.

Amy wasn’t particularly popular with the other retailers in town because she was phenomenally successful. Her shop was always busy and she wasn’t the first to dare to keep her premises open until 10pm when everyone else was religiously locking up shop at 5:30 on the dot (apart from my Grandfather whose green grocer business was legendary in town, his Oxford Street shop was open house at the weekend 24/7, but that’s a whole other blog).

Amy’s prices were always a little high, a penny here, two pennies there but no one seemed to mind because her goods were available from 7am in the morning till 10 at night.

And Amy herself was quirky, she never seemed to age, stuck in her late 50’s, with a 50’s hair style and dressed how you would imagine an aging granny might look. And she moved, a lot. She always had an air of activity about her, darting about her premises like a trapped bluebottle buzzing about her shop with an awkward, almost clumsy fury. We all noticed that she shook a lot too, but she wasn’t scary, quite the reverse, she endeared everyone.

Whenever she spoke to you, she would always punctuate everything she said with the words ‘Thank you’. Invariably inappropriate, out of context and occasionally baffling.

‘Hello can I help you? I thank you.’ ‘Can I have a drumstick please?’ ‘You can, I thank you. Sixpence.’ ‘I thank you, two pence change. I thank you.’

As kids we were delighted in the way that this adult spoke to us. She’d often say ‘I thank you sir’ to me, an 8 year old boy with a drumstick in my hand. So we didn’t mind spending 4 pence for our sweets, even though we could get them a penny cheaper from the man on Ashfield Drive.

But this wasn’t Amy’s only engaging habit. Any faulty product that remained unsold at the end of the day, she would put aside in brown paper bags, ready for the 3:30 rush when schools finished. Martin Perry and I were two of the crowd of hundreds of children who would make the daily homage to Amy’s at 3:30 when she would give away free food.

I know this might sound like we were all living on the bread line and that our parents never fed us, quite the reverse, only the attraction of free food, at a time when, as an 8 year old you were always starving when you got out of school and the long walk home, through town, then up Manor street, the steepest hill in the world, took us usually at least 45 minutes.

Amy would always make certain that her packages were shared equally. It was rare if you got something two days in a row, there was never enough to go around, but she kept a close tally of who got what and when. And the most amazing thing at this daily ritual was that, as she handed you prizes, she would always smile at you and say ‘I thank you’.

Needless to say, Amy had an immensely loyal following. Sick of the competition, Walter Wilson extended their hours till 8pm closing, but whenever I was sent for late night errands I always went to Amy’s, never Walter Wilsons.

And consequently, no one ever nicked sweets from Amy either. And if she needed a hand carrying some boxes from the cellar there was always a hundred loyal followers ready to do her bidding.

Many years later returning to Workington from university one weekend, I was driving through town and was halted in my tracks by a large procession. At first frustrated, I then smiled. It was a funeral cortege and on the roof of the very modest British Leyland Hearse was a floral tribute which read ’ We thank you Amy’. The end of an era, and the start of a new one. Amy’s name is still fondly remembered by many people in Workington, a true champion of customer service.