‘For the artistic shopper’ was a phrase famously used by Oscar Wilde, but is also a way of life that strikes to the very core of Greenfinch in Ticehurst. No, it’s not a shop for birds or about birds (even though birds are very, very lovely), but rather a treasure trove filled with beautiful artwork and unique items. As I rushed past its wide bay windows on a spine-chillingly-cold Saturday afternoon, I couldn’t help but stop and gaze at all of the stunning pieces of art hanging from the ceiling and the quirky goods scattered across the inner windowsills. I was immediately hooked; the colour, the light, the warmth; it all seemed so inviting.
I went in. The chemist can wait.
Calm. That’s the feeling that rushed through me as I stepped through the door and heard the clinging of the bell to welcome my arrival. And calm is the memory that has stayed with me as I sit and reflect on my experience in this extraordinary shop. Serenity, peace, and most importantly, distance. The shop was so quiet despite its position on a very busy Church Street; as soon as the door closed behind me, it felt as if the world wasn’t allowed in, waiting outside just for a few moments as I breathed and took these rare moments of quality time for myself. The music transported my mind to another place, drifting to a complete state of relaxation and the smell … oh my goodness, the smell … what is that smell? My nose carried me to the wafting scent emanating from the main desk at the far end.
I pick up the candle in my hand.
Mood Boost; how fitting. Hand poured in Kent by Wild Planet Aromatherapy. Not Sussex, no, but Ticehurst is a village perfectly situated on the Sussex-Kent border; a bustling little place that benefits from the local delights of both counties.
“All of our items in here are made by local craftspeople,” says Jane, the owner. We’ve struck up a conversation after she spotted me swooning over the alluring smells and carrying a small oyster shell in my hand.
“We sell items for over 70 local artists in here,” she continues. She nods her head to the shell in my hand. “What has caught your eye?”
I show her the gift that captured my heart. A stunning oyster shell from Whitstable Bay I am later told was hand-painted by Periwinkle Shells; hand-painted no less with Botticelli’s Birth of Venus with outstanding precision, colour, and accuracy. My mother is obsessed with Renaissance art. Mother’s Day present sorted.
Jane and I continue to talk as I mooch around the shop, breathing in the beautiful scents and breathing out the worries and stress of the outside world. “Most of our products are not available online,” says Jane. “During Covid, it was a really difficult decision to close-up and not give in to the online store. But I am so glad we remained strong. When I started this shop back in 2019, I wanted Greenfinch in Ticehurst to be about a shopper’s experience, not convenience at the click of a button. People don’t necessarily come in here to buy things; sometimes people come in here just to be!”
We then share a laugh over a customer who asked if they could just come in and have a snooze on the floor. I don’t blame them; Greenfinch has that sort of vibe.
The variety of items on sale is astonishing; paintings, ceramics, jewellery, candles, perfumes; the list goes on. I notice the lamp shades for sale and recognise their popularity in the village; artist Jane McCall clearly has a strong following and from her creations, it’s not hard to see why! I spy more Renaissance-inspired works in McCall’s creations and shove my purse deeper in my pocket as I resist the urge for further purchases. If paintings of the 15th century aren’t your cup of tea, don’t worry; there’s something in there for everyone. Jane’s stock is eclectic and quirky ranging from ceramic tea-cup bird feeders to prints and paintings ranging anywhere between £20 – £3000.
Strangely enough, Jane refused to call Greenfinch a gift shop. An interesting statement considering the one thing I had bought in the shop was indeed a gift. But as we continued chatting, I saw Jane’s point more and more. ‘Gift shops’ imply you’re buying for someone else and with everyone having to tighten their purse strings recently, I immediately recognised how the term ‘gift shop’ might discourage people from entering. ‘I can’t afford to buy for other people, so why should I go in?’ But that’s not what Greenfinch is about; it’s a shop, yes, but the pressure to buy anything is non-existent. It’s about the shopper connecting with the items in front of them, being able to see, feel, even smell, what they’re buying before they’ve committed with payment. It’s about the journey of entering the shop, speaking with a local business owner and having half an hour (or in my case, an hour) to yourself where you can just enjoy the things you want to enjoy and nothing, or no one, is expecting anything of you. And if you are looking to purchase something special for a loved-one? Greenfinch has its own ‘Wish List’ where people can write down all the things they like in the shop and would like to purchase for themselves. Friends and family can then come in separately, browse the ‘Wish List’ and choose from the variety of gifts the recipient desires. Such a simple process, but quite genius really.
After my hour of ‘me time’, I notice time is slipping away quite quickly and unfortunately, I have to step back into reality at some point. I hand Jane the Botticelli oyster shell which she kindly offers to gift wrap … in green eco-friendly, tissue paper no less. I commend her for her dedication to sustainability and before we know it, we’ve spent another ten minutes talking about her biodegradable bubble wrap and the importance of greener living in the wake of a climate crisis.
I must go.
A wave goodbye, a huge smile on my face and a sense of inner peace and calm I certainly didn’t have when I entered the shop over an hour ago. The shop in reality is a small space; how have I ended up spending so much time there? And that’s the magic of Greenfinch; packed full with the most creative, magical items that could keep you browsing for hours. A warm, friendly business owner who takes the time to strike up a conversation and make a connection with the people who enter her shop. Because, in reality, what else could you possibly need? A simple formula that can be so hard to get right. But Greenfinch in Ticehurst does it perfectly. If you’re ever passing through the village of Ticehurst or want somewhere new and different to venture on a boring Saturday afternoon, give Greenfinch a thought and claim your hour of tranquillity that’s just for you.
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Contributed by Daisy Thomas