We are extremely fortunate in Market Harborough to have many independent shops that are run by local people. Clothes, shoes, housewares, cafes, bookshops, chemists, bakers, butchers – you name it. There are some high street names but there really is the commercial space for them all as long as ‘the big boys’ are kept in check. Of course, there are some things you can’t get, school uniform for example, but not many.
One area where I absolutely insist on only using local bods is cafes. Harborough is awash with places to eat and drink but without question, the best ones are the independents. The Boys and I felt the need for a warming hot chocolate on Sunday afternoon, but, the Market Café being closed because of the weather (!) the only places open were Costa, Nero and Starbucks. I occasionally go to Café Nero with friends because they have young children and it is big enough to hide the little ones in a corner and not upset anyone. Fair enough, but I don’t like the place because a) it’s too noisy and b) you can waste half your allotted time queuing up to get your drink. The same is true of Costa (albeit quieter) and I wouldn’t darken the door of Starbucks.
So on Sunday we ended up in Costas. I had to wait ages to actually get our three drinks and three cakes only to find that not a single spare table had been cleared. We cleared out own table and the one next to it and settled down to enjoy our snack. Boy the Elder’s frappe which we thought was a milkshake was an indistinguishable favour and my Victoria Sandwich, which had looked home made on the counter, was full of a synthetic tasting cream which I have not encountered since about 1975. And it cost £12. I will not be going back.
But let me tell you this; when Wartime Housewife Cafes are appearing across the country, you will be served at your table, by smiling, uniformed waiting staff, with home made food, from local suppliers at proper prices. Just you wait.
Without hesitation I will tell you the places in Harborough that I like – I’m sure there are others just as good, this is only my preference:
Aldin’s on the corner of Church Street is a proper old-fashioned tea room. You are served at the table, the menu is simple and wholesome, the portions generous and the prices very reasonable. The cakes are all home made and you can get spaghetti hoops on toast.
Joules just off the High Street has a reasonably priced and extensive menu, several different areas in which to eat, including outside in clement weather, you can get a cracking breakfast and they have theme nights and live music in the summer. There is also a bric-a-brac/reclaim area at the back in which to rummage.
Webb’s Café in Bennett’s Yard is a little gem. It has contemporary décor and a more adventurous menu including, what I call ‘brown food’. Healthy stuff with rice and interesting salads as well as lovely cakes and good coffee.
There is also a café behind the Baptist Church which I can’t for the life of me remember the name of. It is run by the church, is incredibly cheap and you can have a good feed (two courses and a drink) for under a fiver. It also has the advantage of having a really odd selection of people who go in there. Avoid the coffee though. And, despite being unexpectedly closed on Sunday, the cafe in the market does a great all day breakfast and good cakes as well, but obviously it’s only open on market days (Tues, Fri, Sat & Sun)
One other local business that I must mention is the wonderful Rural Trading company. They run a mobile shop which visits loads of local villages on a regular schedule. They provide fruit & veg, meat, poultry, home made ready meals, dairy, chemist and general groceries and all the fresh food comes from local suppliers. I realise that this is very local to us, but there must be lots of these ventures all over the country and if there aren’t, there should be. Maybe there’s an opportunity for you?
Most towns have independent shops and if you want them to stay you have to actually shop there. It’s no good buying all your meat in Sainsburys and then lamenting the loss of your local butcher. The same goes for pubs, churches and village halls. If you want them, you have to support them, you have to go there, shop there, drink there. Don’t let your town or village become indistinguishable from any other town or village in the country.
* Just in case you’re interested The Shop in the photo belonged to my Great Aunt and her husband and was taken in Flixton, Lancashire in 1910.