UK retail, alive and thriving
Yesterday we had the opportunity to get some Christmas shopping under our belt and we were prompted to drive to Sherborne in Dorset, a town we know well and always enjoy. This historic market town would not be everyone’s first choice for a serious shopping trip but its history and beautiful mellow stone buildings create an atmosphere which is hard to beat.
As you stroll down the centre of town you know you are walking in the footsteps of Sir Walter Raleigh, or as us westcountry boys call him, Walt. Bringing tobacco and potatoes back from the States may have brought him fame and wealth, with which he bought Sherborne Castle, but it didn’t give him street smarts. He only went and married one of Lizzie 1st’s ladies in waiting and got sent to the tower for his temerity. Lost his castle didn’t he, silly Elizabethan.
Sherborne also boasts an abbey and two public schools, Sherborne Girls School and Sherborne Boys School, which was the alumni for Sir Christopher Chatterway M.P. (pacemaker to Roger Bannister, him of the 1st four minute mile), Cecil Day-Lewis and Hugh Bonneville, later to be ennobled as the Earl of Grantham. For my younger readers Sherborne School was the educational springboard for a young Exeter boy called Chris Martin or otherwise known as Mr Gwyneth Paltrow or Mr Coldplay.
A very long preamble but it does set the scene for our shopping expedition. When you first arrive at Sherborne you are immediately made to feel wanted and welcome. Loads of cheap parking immediately behind the shops so you’re not worn out before you start and not far to carry all the packages back to the boot. So concerned are the locals to make you feel welcome that they name the main shopping street after the parking charges, Cheap Street and that’s where you need to start.
More thoughtfulness by the locals, most of the day they close Cheap Street to traffic, so you can relax and let the children off the leash. First decision you need to make, which of the many coffee shops is going to take my groats today? At the top of the street is Oliver’s, which is meaningful to me as the originator, John Oliver, was a friend and client for many years.
Two Americanos down and time to get serious with the shopping. Although tucked discretely behind Oliver’s is a Waitrose and there is a Boots, Smith’s and Fat Face in town, the majority of the shops are owner operated, giving much greater choice and variety to your purchases.
If you have an artistic leaning, when you come out of Oliver’s cross the road and entre the Little Art Shoppe, which is full of parchment, canvas and tubes and brushes to suit all.
A few steps down the street and you can’t help to be enchanted by the exterior of The Circus, a shop packed with gifts downstairs and upmarket ladies fashion appropriately upstairs.
Cilla and Camilla Cookshop will spoil you with the range of kitchen gadgets and Almondburys will amaze you with their choice of lighting. While you are absorbing this array of quality wares send his lordship into Abbey Décor, an old fashioned hardware shop. Every tool he needs for his shed but has never found or bought – that will keep his quiet while you sneak into Biggie Best and the Abbey Pharmacy & Perfumery. See if he catches you up before you get to the Melbury Gallery (no, not more canvases, Oska clothing and jewellery) and the Pear Tree Café and Deli.
Rather than going on and on about the individuality and choices of Sherborne why not click onto Google Street Maps and see for yourself.
Cheshire Oaks, The Trafford Centre and Cribbs Causeway etc. all have their place but they can’t compete with the charm and relaxed experience of a Sherborne, Altrincham, Topsham or a Burford.
Whatever the media might write about the demise of town and city centres, believe me, where the public are made to feel welcome, there is the beating heart of British retail.
For over 40 years Armada has been financing the fitting out and the equipment needed to run retail enterprises. Whether it’s flooring, shelving, alarm systems and signage, every day we are supporting new retail ventures across the UK.
Long may we continue to be a nation of shopkeepers.