by Nikky Wilson
There used to be one on almost every street corner: a small, busy shop selling many basic necessities. They were part of the social fabric of the neighbourhood. In the past twenty years, however, these independent shops have been vanishing, facing stiff competition from supermarkets and changing consumer habits. Despite this nationwide trend, there is still a thriving selection of local shops in Burngreave. To find out why this might be, I spoke to some local shop keepers.
Burngreave Wine Shop
Mr and Mrs Patel have run the Burngreave Wine Shop on Burngreave Road since 1985. “It was a real slog when we first came,” said Ramesh Patel. “Burngreave was different then. There was a hostile atmosphere and we were living above the shop for the first few years so it was hard to get away from this. But the area has improved now and we know all our customers.”
“We set out to treat people with respect and to try to meet their needs.This means that if we haven’t got something someone wants, we’ll try to get it for them… and at a decent price. But it’s hard work! People think we just stand behind the counter all day. Well, first of all we’re open seven days a week, from 9am to 10pm. Even after we close up, we still have to prepare for the next day.There’s a lot of physical work too, collecting stock and displaying it. We are two families, so at least we can share that workload. Even so, I had to stand behind the counter with a broken leg once – we’d have lost customers if we had simply closed the shop.”
“There are good parts to the job too!” said Mrs Patel. “We enjoy talking to our customers. They’re like friends and it’s really important that we can offer a more personal touch, knowing their names and some of their background. We’ve seen some of them grow from toddlers to mothers themselves so they know us pretty well too! Quite a few of our regular customers have moved to other parts of Sheffield but they still shop here – that makes us feel really appreciated. And we love the multicultural community in Burngreave: our customers come from all over the world.”
So it seems the secret of success in a small business like the Patel’s is the friendship and customer service they give. But what of the future? “We don’t feel pressured by supermarkets: there aren’t any nearby… yet. What does concern us is the proposed changes on Burngreave Road. Most of our customers rely on cars. If we can’t provide parking within reasonable reach of the shop, then we may as well close up.” On this gloomy note, Mr Patel sees all his efforts to create a successful business threatened. Let’s hope the future holds something different for them and for all the small shops in Burngreave. They add colour and character to the area.
Dur Dur, on Ellesmere Road, truly is a ‘corner’ shop with interesting brick work, giving it a rounded exterior. The owner, Saeed Saleh said:
“In 2001 I took over the old TSB Bank building. There were hardly any grocery shops on Spital Hill then, and none, even across Sheffield, selling Somali food. So I opened a shop selling halal meat and other specialist foods. But it was quite difficult! Some people thought I was mad setting up a business in Burngreave and there was no-one to advise me. Even finding the wholesale markets for certain products wasn’t easy! But now I’ve been in business five years and I really enjoy it! I’m involved in the community and I feel at home here. I know lots of people and many of my customers are like family to me. I think what’s important is that they can feel confident in the quality of the meat and my other products: it’s all proper halal food.”
“Burngreave has improved a lot,” Mr Saleh added. “Now there are plenty of other shops on Spital Hill and around Ellesmere. My only concern is that there have been a lot of break-ins recently. I hope we’re not going back to how things were before. We need better security.”
Like many other Burngreave buildings, the shop itself has a history. Part of a line of shops built in the late 1800s to supply an expanding neighbourhood; an early proprietor was John Standall, who ran a painting and decorating business. By 1932 it was a branch of the Sheffield Savings Bank, and later became the TSB. Now as Dur Dur, it sells a great selection of groceries, fresh fruit and vegetables along with fresh meat to a local population – a truly local shop!
Celebrating the role corner shops play within the local community, the newly re-opened Weston Park Museum has made a short video focusing on Burngreave shopkeepers, as part of its new exhibitions. Go along and see some familiar faces!
Thanks to Mr and Mrs Patel and Saeed Saleh for giving their time to be interviewed.
Burngreave Voices: Our Stories Celebrated is a Sheffield Galleries and Museums Trust project in partnership with Sheffield Libraries, WEA and Sheffield College, and is supported by Sheffield City Council and BNDfC.