As any long suffering parent knows, shopping is a far more enjoyable experience if you don't have children in tow. Not only is it far less stressful, it's also so much cheaper! The novelty of the supermarket wore off for my children a loooong time ago so for some years now I have been spared the embarrassing tantrums at the lolly aisle and random objects mysteriously appearing in my trolley, followed by yet more tantrums at the checkout. However my two boys have now reached the delightful age where they refuse point blank to go shopping with me at ALL!
The main reason for this is that at 12 and 14 respectively they tell me it is definitely not cool to go shopping with your mum - especially in a small town like Whangamata where EVERYONE sees you! However they have also made no secret of the fact that they hate shopping with me these days because I spend more time talking than shopping. I can't help it; I've meant so many wonderful people since moving here! They are real gems and I'm proud to say that to date I've discovered them all myself.
Take Daryl and Gail for instance. They own the boys' favourite shop, Roar. Long before we moved here I was impressed with their service. As soon as you walk into the store it's obvious that these two love what they do. Like us, they're just so glad to be here! This dedicated couple employ no other staff; it's just the two of them working long hours all year round but you are always guaranteed a warm welcome. Having made the move to Whangamata with their children a few years previously, they were happy to answer any questions Noel and I had with regard to the area, in particular the school and how their own children had made the transition. They were both so helpful and never forgot our faces. Every time we popped in when on holidays or checking out real estate they would immediately ask 'So are you here for good yet?' I couldn't wait to go into the shop to tell them when we had finally made the move!
Since then I try and support their business wherever possible. They always go out of their way to help people find what they're looking for and if they don't have it, they do their best to get it in for you. I love the fact that their shop is 100% devoted to local brands, that they play cool music in store and they are always nice to my boys. Daryl even helped Ali fix the new watch he got for Christmas when he was having trouble with it! They always truly appreciate our custom and have often given us discount on our purchases. Their shop is a one-of-a-kind, true hidden gem!
Another firm favourite is the Whangamata Surf Shop, owned by the Williams family. These guys are awesome! When the boys wanted to learn to surf there were several places we could have gone to for advice but I thought we would try them first and I'm so glad we did. They have been surfing for decades and really know their stuff. As soon as Ali and I walked in, Braedon made us feel welcome. We learned so much from him in that one visit that Ali was able to get up on his surfboard within around 15 minutes of taking it out in the sea. Since then we have also had the pleasure of dealing with Braedon's parents, Dean and Janine and his sister Ella, all of whom work in the shop. Nothing is too much trouble and they always make time to chat and offer help and advice even when the shop is heaving with people. Most of all though I love their infectious enthusiasm. They make the most of every single day and support each other in everything they do. They are an extremely tight-knit family and their love for each other, their business and their passion for surfing and helping others just radiates from them. Whether Ali needs new wax for his surfboard or Noel needs a new wedding outfit, you can guarantee they will always see us right. I've lost count of the times they've offered to teach me to surf - one day I might just take them up on it!
The thing about Hidden Gems is, when you find a good one, you will keep going back. I remember years ago I had a job as a Saturday girl in a shoe shop with some other girls from school. We were always on hand to help and would approach customers with a smile if it was obvious they needed assistance but apart from that we would let them browse in peace. Until a new manager was appointed, whom we immediately christened Tiny Tim. Small man, huge ego! He insisted that we all jump on the poor unsuspecting customers before they had barely got in the door. We hated doing this and would try to avoid it wherever possible under his ferocious glare but it was obvious that the customers didn't like it. Nine times out of ten they were just coming in for a nosey in their lunch hour and didn't even know what they were looking for but so desperate was our manager to make his sales figures look better than his predecessor that he would do anything to try and manipulate people into buying. We were literally driving customers away! I couldn't bring myself to do it and it wasn't long before I left, as did the rest of the girls I worked with. We had barely handed in our stripey blouses and name badges before we heard that Tiny Tim had been 'let go'...
Fortunately I have yet to come across any Tiny Tim's in Whangamata! Instead I love to support people like Leith and Ange at Stirling Sports, who travel to other stores especially to get things for us, give us discounts AND invite me running. Or the bubbly Sarah from Saltwater who is always 100% honest when she says 'Yes, that dress does look crap on you', but is nice enough to add 'But it's not you - it's the dress!' Not to mention she invited me to go along to her Zumba class twice a week the moment she learned I'd just moved here. Or EJ, the brilliant hairdresser at Sorenson's who cuts my hair like nobody else. I never have to worry about leaving the salon with that 'Look everybody! I've just had my fringe cut!' look - and to top it off, my first haircut was free!
So those are my favourite Hidden Gems - am I allowed to mention caf's too? I know caf's aren't very SS but if you want brilliant value for money you can't go past Vibes caf for fantastic breakfasts and Caf Rossini for awesome lunches. Last time Noel and I went there for lunch we ordered an open chicken sandwich and almost fainted at the price but when it arrived it was MASSIVE! Neither of us could eat it all and we were so full we couldn't even think about eating dinner hours later! Well worth treating yourself if you're ever in town - and if you are, let me know and I'll meet you there!