Middlesbrough retailer Nicole Bean’s business has bucked the trend and emerged from the pandemic stronger than ever – but it’s not by accident.
Like most shops Alta Ego had to close for many months, but Nicole was still there every day keeping in touch with her customers and preparing to make deliveries.
She also launched a weekly live online sale – Crystals for the Soul – which proved so popular it still takes place every fortnight.
“I really wasn’t prepared to give up on the business,” said Nicole, who launched Alta Ego nearly 17 years ago, moved into the Dundas Indoor Market in 2017, and has seen trade increase to beyond pre-COVID levels.
Nicole is a Wiccan – a modern Pagan religion. “I was always a bit of a nature child and when I was still very young I started to read and learn about being in tune with the seasons and the earth as well as some of the traditions,” she said.
Her shop is full of objects which reflect Nicole’s interests and beliefs: incense, herbs, candles, jewellery, books, clothes, craftwork from India and Mexico. “It’s just like my home but a lot tidier,” she said.
Alta Ego’s best-sellers are crystal tumblestones – or crystals – which are said to channel positive energy from the earth to help mental and physical well-being.
The shop’s prices range from pocket money items to a block of Himalayan quartz which is on sale for £600.
Nicole has re-designed her shop and taken on extra space as interest in both her business and what it represents has increased.
“During the pandemic a lot of people had time to reflect and research and many of them opened themselves up to new ideas and more spiritual paths. Even people who in the past were really sceptical seem more accepting,” said Nicole.
“While this is a business, it’s also me doing what I love and it means I can interact with people of similar minds. People come in and I listen to them and give them some advice. They don’t have to buy anything.
“I like to think I provide a little support network. I want people to walk out of here feeling a bit better about things.”
David Harris, the Dundas Indoor Market manager, said Alta Ego is typical of many of the market’s businesses: “Nicole is definitely independent, you can’t find most of what she sells anywhere else, and she genuinely cares about the health and happiness of her customers.”