Port Lockroy team blog #5: My money don’t jiggle jiggle, it’s cold…
My money don’t jiggle jiggle, it’s cold… Running the world’s most remote shop
When I first had the call to say that I’d got the job of Shop Manager at Base A, Port Lockroy, I was elated but had absolutely no idea what to expect. Just how different could retail be in Antarctica compared to the years I’d spent in retail in the UK? What would the customers be like? How would it stack up to the three years I’d spent running my own business?
Well, we’ve been here just over a month now, so I thought I’d share just what it is like running a shop in one of the most remote places on the planet!
A passenger peruses the Port Lockroy shop (Credit: Lucy Bruzzone)
Our shop/post office here is a small one, situated in the old generator shed within Bransfield House, which is also home to our museum. Although it’s a small store, it has a big job to do. It brings in nearly three-quarters of UKAHT’s annual income and plays a vital role in raising funds towards the conservation of Base A along with the other five historical sites UKAHT maintains on the peninsula.
The commute to work is slightly different to the one that I’m used to. Instead of getting in the car and joining the never-ending traffic on the A3, instead, we put on our thermals, don our waterproofs and make a very short commute of about 50m on foot, occasionally getting stuck behind penguins making their own morning commute to the ocean to fish.
We’re greeted every morning by a ship in the bay, patiently waiting for us to open at 9am. Then, the expedition teams ferry passengers to and from the island on zodiacs, where they will send postcards, buy gifts for loved ones back home and experience this beautiful, fascinating island we call home.
We meet people from all over the world – up to 350 of them per day – and love hearing about their travels in Antarctica and what they’ve seen and heard along the way as well as sharing what our life is like here. Occasionally, we have even met people from our hometowns which is always exciting!
The shop during these visits is always fast-paced – it feels like the Christmas retail rush back home, but every single day. Unbelievably, we have enough wifi here for card machines to function. We all still look on in awe whenever someone pays using their watch or phone!
Using the credit card machine at Port Lockroy (Credit: Lucy Bruzzone)
As soon as the last passenger leaves at lunchtime, we rush around tidying, restocking shelves and cashing up, before prepping to do it all again for the afternoon ship visit.
Restocking the shop is always a fun task; instead of popping into the stockroom, we go to our boatshed! The boatshed, which used to hold boats in the 1950s, is now full to the brim with boxes of stock. The boatshed is located down by the edge of the island, so we grab a sledge and head down. This is the one task that the copious amounts of snow we’ve received this year has come in useful as it’s much easier to sledge boxes up and down the hill. Later in the season, we’ll have to carry them, taking care not to step in too much guano!
Dodging penguin guano on the stock run (Credit: Lucy Bruzzone)
You might be wondering how we get all of this stock down here. This is a similar process to back home, but instead of stock arriving in pallets on a lorry, ours arrives in pallets on a ship and is delivered by zodiac, which ship staff kindly help us to unload onto the island. This does make reordering a little tricky. Everything has to be planned out ahead of the season and arranged into four drops throughout. We managed to sell out of Shackleton Whisky within the first couple of weeks, so are eagerly awaiting our next drop in January!
Occasionally a ship will come by with too many passengers to bring onto the island (we’re only a tiny place, so visitor numbers are limited). On these occasions, we take the shop to the ship! Our on-board shops are very fun and very fast-paced. We take stock across in dry bags and boxes, usually sell out of most items and take multiple currencies of cash (lots of calculators for exchange rates are a must). We’re usually rewarded from our on-board shops with showers and dinner on board, which is always a nice treat after a busy day.
Stock run on ice (Credit: Lucy Bruzzone)
Overall, running a shop in Antarctica isn’t too dissimilar to running a shop back home. There are definitely some challenges that come with remoteness and the work here never stops. However, you’re rewarded with working and living in what is probably the most beautiful place on the planet.
After a long day, once all of the passengers have left, it’s just the four of us here with the peace, mountains, sea and penguins all to ourselves. It’s truly a privilege to be a shop manager here and to be trusted with raising vital funds for the Trust.
I couldn’t imagine a better place to work!
Natalie Corbett, Shop Manager, Port Lockroy
PS: if you didn't get the reference, here's our song of the week, Jiggle Jiggle by Louis Theroux