“Margaret is, in many ways, the true spirit of Alyth. There is a real comfort in the unchanging nature of her shop. A warm welcome awaits all who cross her threshold and she offers an experience that is so much more than shopping. Margaret has a genuine warmth and she knows her customers and their extended families inside out.” An Alyth Exile
Margaret chatting on the doorstep of her shop in Alyth, photo Clare Cooper
In our fast paced lives where most of us rush from one thing to the next trying to fit everything in, we can often miss experiencing some of the best things that are on our doorstep. Margaret Ferguson and her shop on Commercial Street in Alyth is one of those. A trove of food and groceries of all kinds, Margaret’s sparkling personality and quick wit turns the chore of shopping into a refuge from the daily whirl. After some months of persuading, Clare Cooper, co-producer of Cateran’s Common Wealth managed to get her to overcome her reticence and talk, a little, about herself and the shop.
Tell us about how you came to have this shop, how long you have been running it and what you offer your customers?
I bought the house with the shop attached to it and decided to give it a go for a few years and 44 years later, I’m still here! We try to buy a lot of local Scottish produced, fresh, quality produce. We try to give our customers personal service, which I think most people like, and they are not just customers, they are friends.
Some of Margaret’s fresh local produce, photo Clare Cooper
“A high point whenever I visit Alyth is visiting Margaret in her shop. Purchasing things from her is a reminder that the best kind of shopping comes with personal attention, a warm welcome and exchange of news. Margaret always offers more than what’s for sale – a great mix of essentials and really high quality treats to take back to friends at home”. Julia Rowntree, London
Margaret’s very popular preserves, photo Clare Cooper
I also have an extensive range of old fashioned sweets. They are made in Edinburgh and we make a good sale on both ordinary sweets and sugar free ones too. Over the 44 years I’ve run the shop, very little has changed in what I stock and that seems to suit my customers very well.”
Some of Margaret’s extensive range of old fashioned sweets, photo, Clare Cooper
What do you enjoy most about being a shop keeper?
“Meeting all my customers, many of whom have been my customers ever since I opened the shop!”
“As regular visitors to Alyth, we always enjoy going to Margaret’s for our shopping. You always get a warm welcome and a kind word and her shelves are so well stocked with the things we enjoy and can’t get down south. A visit to Margaret’s makes shopping a pleasure and reminds one of how life used to be. A gentle and kindly lady, she has the whole community at heart and has become quite a legend in her own time. Indeed, we regard Margaret as an Institution in her own right!” Greg and Di Desson, Surrey
Margaret at work, Photo, Clare Cooper
You experienced the devastating flood of 2015 when the Alyth Burn burst its banks and flooded the whole of the centre of the Town and beyond. You were the first shop to re-open – tell us about that experience
“That was dreadful that morning, we couldn’t get near the shop, we had 27 inches of water inside the shop that came and went within four hours. I’d never seen anything like it. At first I couldn’t take it in because I really didn’t know what had happened, I just really had never seen anything like it, and I didn’t know what had happened until I was walking along Airlie Street almost at the shop, when a lady said to me “you’ll not get near the shop today, Alyth’s flooded.” But even after hearing what she said I still didn’t realise that we had actually been flooded in the shop, I thought it was just the square. We had quite a bit of damage, but fortunately with the family around me, we got in, got clearing and cleaned the shop. We closed on the Friday and then re-opened on the Monday, the second working day after the flood, ready for trading again. We were the first shop to re-open for business.”
“When I went to see Margaret after the flood I was amazed at how calm and resilient she was about what had happened. Even though she had to strip out everything, scrub out all the mud and filth that had come in, put as much back as she could and wait for the floor to dry out for weeks before it could be re-layed, she just ‘got on with it’, got the shop open and started trading again almost straight away. She taught me a real lesson in how you can manage and get through a disaster and I shall not forget it.” Alyth resident
July 17th, 2015, the Great Alyth Flood, photo, Daily Record
What’s special about Alyth and the Cateran Trail area for you?
“I think it’s a lovely place to live, people are friendly, loyal, and we love the countryside, we tour about a lot in the car locally, we love to meander over all the area, it’s beautiful, I wouldn’t move from here.”
Looking down towards Glen Isla, Photo, Clare Cooper
What are your hopes for the future of Alyth and your grandchildren?
I have four grandsons all of whom live in the town and are happy to live in the town at the moment. I was hoping that we would have had all our foot bridges back after they got swept away in the flood, but unfortunately, the one that I would like to have had put back is not coming. But I want to see the whole town centre regenerated and tidied up greatly, and I just want people to come and enjoy it as we do. I’d also like there to be more individual shops in the town, but I’m not sure that is going to happen.
Young dancers at the Alyth Gala Day, Photo, Clare Cooper
What advice would you give to future generations who come to live in Alyth
“I think everyone who lives here needs to try and be part of the community, too many people come and live here, but they don’t shop in Alyth, they don’t join anything in Alyth, they don’t have anything to do with anything in Alyth, they use it as a place to sleep at night and go away every day and do everything they want outwith the town.”
Alyth folk gathering for the lighting of the beacon on Alyth Hill on New Years day, a local tradition, Photo, Clare Cooper
If you hadn’t been a shop keeper, what do you think you would have been?
I think I would probably have ended up working in a café or something like that. I’d have been meeting people for sure. I never thought I would like being a shop keeper because I had no intentions when I bought the house of having a shop, but I don’t think I would ever give it up willingly now!
“Margaret is an “icon of Alyth”. She is at the centre of the community and has a wealth of knowledge about the people and the town which she is always happy to share. She has a welcoming smile for everyone who enters her shop and is always cheery – she is a great asset to the town.” Marian Bruce, Vice Chair of Alyth Development Trust