BUY LOCAL: Blackwood - Manics' town where music shops thrive
10:32am Thursday 14th July 2011 in Buy local
IT IS perhaps fitting that in a town which spawned the Manic Street Preachers, one of the most successful independent traders is a shop selling musical instruments and merchandise.
And, indeed, staff at Must Have Music and Impact, based at the Market Place, Blackwood, count members of the rock band as customers.
Since moving from the town’s indoor market in January, the new, bigger premises has thrived, with customers coming from all over south Wales. Its website has 5,000 hits a month.
It has just three staff, with co-director Simon Fowler saying: ‘We work with charities and schools, take lots of work experience people, which is why independent shops are better than chains.
“We give honest advice and spend a lot more time with customers. It’s why we have 95 per cent repeat custom and many become friends.”
Two new independent ventures have opened on Gravel Lane in the last few months. The Cook’s Cupboard sells kitchen equipment and Fuel: Premium Smoothies and Shakes offers baguettes, fruit drinks and confectionery.
Owner of Fuel, Andrew Harper said: “I saw a gap in the market and it’s getting more popular.”
However, the changing face of Blackwood is illustrated by the fact this new venture has taken the place of the town’s only greengrocer – Top Crop, which closed earlier this year.
There also used to be eight butchers, nowthere is only one, with Brown’s likely to close soon.
It was founded on the High Street in 1923, with Stuart Brown the third generation of his family to run it.
But it has been up for sale for more than a year and he said: “If I could find a buyer, I’d sell tomorrow. I wouldn’t say the supermarkets are competition, as they don’t sell what I sell. They are just convenient and suck everyone away from the High Street.”
Next door, Lambert’s Schoolwear has been open since 1933 and owner Phil Lambert is more upbeat.
He said: “Nationwide, you see High Streets emptying, with people going to out-oftown developments. Here, it’s the opposite, with noone going to retail parks around Blackwood.”
Despite tough economic times, it seems one trade that continues to thrive is foodwith many cafes and restaurants such as Lui’s Plaice, the Square Café, Le Café, Caesar’s and Cwm Bakery continuing to do well.
Debbie Williams of Coffee Cup Café said: “Our customers are always very loyal and stick with us through the years.”
This fact seems to have also been recognised by Jeet Jaiswal and Vijay Jindle, who have moved their photo processing venture from the High Street and are opening an Indian restaurant, Punjabi Inn, at the premises.
Other independent shops include Jean’s clothes shop and other ventures offering homebrew equipment, heating supplies and computer equipment at Emily’s Indoor Market.
The true value of independent retailers though is illustrated by Newscene, based on the High Street for 42 years and owned by David Rowlands.
Worker Nicola Gameson said: “It’s far more personal.
We get the same old customers every day who tell us about their little problems and have a natter.
People want a smile and the same old friendly face.
“We’ve had to change over the years, though.We used to sell paperbacks, but can’t compete with the supermarkets now.
“But, we do a vast range of specialist magazines and people come for them as it’s something supermarkets don’t offer.”
Town has 'Good selection of shops'
SHOPPERS telll us why they like Blackwood.
Pat Medcraft, 72, from Oakdale, has been coming into Blackwood most her adult life and enjoys wandering around the independent shops.
She said: “I come in about twice a week. I’ll meet a friend for a coffee and even if we just come in to get a bus to Caerphilly, we’ll look around the shops.”
Richard Eyles, 58, from Blackwood, said: “There’s a lot more choice in local, independent shops, that’s why I like them.”
Anne Jeffries, 72, of Woodfieldside, said: “The fruit and veg stall recently closed which means I have to go to Asda now.
“But, there are lots of good cafes still here, like the Square café.”
Elaine Gingell, 58, also of Woodfieldside, said: “There used to be lots more local shops dotted around and I do miss the selection. There were lots of butchers, but now there’s only one left.”