Use them or lose them: 14 independent shops and venues which define Ipswich
PUBLISHED: 06:15 16 November 2019 | UPDATED: 16:47 06 December 2019
The message from our high streets in 2019 has been pretty grim, but there are still plenty of long-running independents in Ipswich flying the flag for our county town.
Countless big name stores have shut their doors across the nation this year. We've seen the fall of Thomas Cook, Karen Millen, Coast, Mothercare and Bonmarche. And troubles have brewed for the likes of Debenhams, Patisserie Valerie and Jack Wills.
Factors such as the rising cost of town and city centre parking, increased staff wages and employer contributed pensions, business rate inflation, and an increased reliance on internet shopping, have impacted the shopping arena perhaps more than most of us could have anticipated.
Therefore it's never been so important to show our support for local, independents. And the battle cry from Ipswich shops is "we're here, come and use us!"
Amongst our historic county town's centre and off-shooting lanes are swathes of independent shops and venues, selling not only unique gifts, but often, they say, products and services at prices which cannot be beaten by online sellers.
Here are just some of them, many having been in the town for more than a decade or more. Let's give our high street the love it needs this Christmas and vote with our feet. Shop local.Crafty Baba
Crafty Baba has been on St Peter's Street for five years, and is now a welcoming hub that offers everything you could possibly need to be creative. What makes Craft Baba different is its unique range of classes and workshops that they run all year round. Book onto one of their classes and learn new skills, explore different crafts and even make new friends. The whole team at Craft Baba are passionate about delivering a top customer experience. Whether you're looking for a product that you don't know the name of, or that you haven't been able to find in years, one of the friendly staff members is guaranteed to help resolve your problem. However, what really sets Craft Baba apart from the crowd is its bookmarks. A few years ago, owner Zoe Woods' mum had breast cancer. Once she recovered, she started making bookmarks with contact details for those worried about cancer, and inserted them in Crafty Baba's pattern books. Now, these can be found in every pattern book, to help people who need comfort or advice. Zoe explains: "This helps make us a safe space. There is something therapeutic about crafts, and I've found that customers open up to me in a way that they probably wouldn't to other business owners - particularly if they're going through a hard time. Even though I can't solve their problems, I can listen."
Having recently celebrated its milestone 90th birthday, The Regent remains a key part of the Ipswich community, offering a variety of entertainment to all age groups, including spectacular performances, excellent shows, live music, hilarious comedies and much more. The Regent brings a dynamic aspect to Ipswich nightlife, which has helped make it a staple part of the town. Each night of the week there will be a different show to cater to the variety of different interests, meaning there is always something exciting to look forward to. The Regent is one of the only places in Ipswich you can see live shows, acts and music - some of which include big stars. For the team at The Regent, this is an important part of business as it helps set them apart from competition, Peter Ling, shows and finance manager, says: "Nowadays, cinema chains to online streaming services are so popular. We want to encourage people to visit us so they can see the performances live, which is a much more emotive experience than watching a screen."
The Purple Shop
Everyone in Ipswich knows this iconic shop as it has been a staple piece of the town since 1972, and after nearly 50 years, business is still going strong. The Purple Shop was once one of the only alternative shops in Ipswich, but as body modification has become more popular there has been an influx of independent stores opening offering similar services. Kailea from the shop shares: "We're lucky enough to have an old, kooky shop - which is obviously painted bright purple. As we've been here so long we often welcome people into the store who just want to have a look around because it reminds them of their childhood - it's lovely!" Throughout the years, The Purple Shop has continued to sell the same style of stock, but its flagship speciality is piercings. The team are highly trained and are renowned for the friendly, relaxed setting, which helps everyone feel at ease.
Wahoo is a family-run business established in 1987, selling a range of clothing and accessories from brands including Santa Cruz, Animal, Hoax (Ed Sheeran's favourite), Rip n Dip and Element. The store has a welcoming feel, which attracts locals and visitors from neighbouring towns and counties. It recently moved locations so it could have a bigger shop floor, as the family wanted Wahoo to give its customers an experience. Ric Taplin says: "Internet shopping is here to stay, but I think it's better to put aside a little bit of time, to visit stores to see and feel products. Shopping should be an experience and you're also more likely to buy something you really want if you see it in person."
Ric continues: "Ipswich has a vibrant centre and it's a great place to own a store. Of course, it's changed over the years, but I've always said it's like an open-air shopping mall - we're lucky to have so much variety in the town, and a big part of that is thanks to the independent stores." Wahoo now has its winter collection in store, boasting an impressive collection of comfy products that will keep you feeling cosy. Choose from fluffy socks, scarves and hats - or those who are feeling adventurous may want to shop for new snowboarding or skiing equipment.
Merchant House Interiors
Fifteen years ago, Merchant House Interiors started out selling reclaimed products such as fireplaces and doors, but as time has passed, this quaint store has evolved to be a hub for stylish furniture. Find everything from dining tables and sofas, to mirrors and side boards, all of which have a unique flare. Owner, John Manning, is passionate about every product he sells, and encourages people to come in store to see and feel the products for themselves. He says: "Shopping in independent stores is fun. In Merchant House Interiors, we try to make people laugh with fun signage, and interest them with products that won't have seen anywhere else." John also shares that Merchant House Interiors goes above and beyond to provide exceptional customer service. He offers free delivery on all products, and John will even personally hang artwork and mirrors. John expresses: "We really do offer our customers the full package - it's so important to us they they're happy!"
A House In Town
A House In Town opened nine years ago as John Manning wanted to inject a vibrant kick to life into Ipswich's furniture market. He shares: "I wanted to open A House In Town as I was tired of seeing the same beige and vanilla products in stores. That's why everything we do is slightly different." The goal of the shop is to help customers find a more individual style which is of a high quality, yet still reasonably priced. John continues: "If you can buy it elsewhere, we don't want to sell it," so whether you're looking for a statement piece or some decorative accessories, you're guaranteed to find something special here.
Craftability has been a staple part of Ipswich for 14 years, but the shop itself has been around for an impressive 50 years, just under a different name.
Tricia Hale says: "Being an independent business in Ipswich has been challenging at times. More so in recent years, but that's probably just the nature of retail in general, but on the whole we're pretty buoyant, which is thanks to our local customer base." As Craftability is an independent retailer, it's able to change stock to meet needs and change direction to meet trends. The friendly staff also welcome customers to explore Craftability's workshop of paper-based products, such as inks, stamps and machines. The team give free expert advice because every member of staff is passionate about crafts, meaning each customer is guaranteed to find exactly what they're after. Tricia continues: "Our knowledge sets us apart from other people, as we're able to offer friendly and accurate advice, as well as letting people try products before they buy. Unlike bigger chains, we can change our stock to suit our customers, and we always make sure our products are high-quality and reasonably priced."
The Italian Shirt Shop
Home to the exclusive Antonio Bellini label, The Italian Shirt Shop sells some of the highest quality shirts that you will find in Ipswich. Whether you're looking for a luxurious gift for a friend or an elegant suit for yourself, you're guaranteed to find something for every occasion. As everything is made in Italy, each and every product boasts excellence and is guaranteed to withstand the test of time. Every six weeks, owner Antonio heads back to Italy to arrange the manufacturing of his products. Antonio shares: "Cheap designer labels tend to use clothes from places like Vietnam, China and Bangladesh, but these are often poor quality and are only bought because consumers recognise the label. Everything I make is of the best possible quality, and the people who make my clothes actually receive a proper wage for realistic periods of time - which is incredibly important."
Out Of Time Records
Giving the people of Ipswich world-class music from around the globe, for almost 30 years. Venture into the store to find a sea of CDs, records and tapes from modern day favourites to all-time classics. Music-lovers will be in paradise as they flick through timeless albums they probably won't be able to find anywhere else in Ipswich. Chris Mortimer, who has been with the shop since 1989 says: "We love being an independent, as we're able to give our customers exactly what they want - that why we stand out from every other record shop." Out Of Time Records delivers a nostalgic experience, as you'll find tracks from your childhood that you may not have thought about in years. Chris continues: "People love visiting us because they never know what they will find. We've found that people come to us time and time again because we're much cheaper that other record stores, including those that you'll find online."
Since 1977, Ipswich has been home to Jonty's, which was named after Ipswich Town footballer, David Johnson. This proud family business has been in the fashion industry for 150 years, and owner Jane Kingsley-Holtam, prides herself of creating high-end garments that you won't find anywhere else. In fact, Jane has recently started to create her own items, including elegant gloves and jackets, which can only be found in Jonty's. Jonty's has a loyal customer base of repeat customers who often fly across the world just to visit the store - and Christmas is no exception. Jane always loves welcoming customers from different backgrounds as she pairs them with her the perfect outfits for special occasions. She also offers a rather unique service. She will reorganise your wardrobe and help you update your style, and advise you on garments to part with, and new items to invest in. Although Jane's clothes are aimed at high-end consumers, she says: "A lot of people will buy online or buy cheap because they think they're saving money. But they'd be much better off investing in better-quality clothing that will last them many years. It's also much better for the environment."
This beautiful boutique has been selling vibrant, unique clothing to the streets of Ipswich for eight years, since 2012. Owner Mandy Errington has worked hard to create a shop that oozes elegance and sells unique items that you won't find anywhere else. Mandy is particularly proud of the range of make up products that can be found in the boutique, and offers make overs to help match customers with their ideal products. She uses the Youngblood range, which is 100% pure and natural, with colours for all skin tones and types. The shop has recently moved so it is more accessible to customers and to make it easier to showcase the range of clothing and accessories. Mandy also wanted to expand her collection, and says: "We're so proud of DJV Boutique, and the whole family got involved to help make it what it is today - it's been a real collective effort and we couldn't be happier."
Berridges has been selling jewellery in the centre of Ipswich for the last 25 years, and is proud of be an independent retailer. Well known for its antique pieces and stunning pearls, the jeweller is now preparing for its busiest time of year, when customers will flock to buy necklaces, bracelets and engagement rings for Christmas. Owner Christopher Hardman shares the secret to Berridges' success - having a friendly expert team who understand each and every product inside out. From glistening diamonds to dazzling rubies, they enjoy pairing customers with their perfect products. But Berridges isn't just a jeweller. Upstairs you will find a restaurant which serves up delicious afternoon tea and always has an impressive array of homemade cakes - they serve the best lemon meringue pie in Ipswich, some say! So next time you plan on buying a piece of jewellery, explore what Berridges has to offer, then nip upstairs for a relaxing bite to eat.
Maud has been on St Peter's Street, Ipswich for an impressive 25 years, and she's still very much in love with being an independent business owner. When Maud first opened Maud's Attic, she sold beautiful antique and second-hand items. But as time passed, she saw that antiques were becoming less in demand, and customers were searching for more modern pieces. Now, a trip to Maud's Attic will include everything from hand bags, furniture and lighting, making it the perfect place to purchase one-of-a-kind Christmas gifts. It's certainly one of the most sparkling shops in Ipswich when you step inside.
The Dress Circle
The Dress Circle was established 17 years ago by Carole Emery, who has had a passion for fashion since she was just 15 years old. The Dress Circle started out selling agency clothes, but since adapted to fit trends and customer expectations by selling new clothes, too. Carole prides her success on the friendly rapport she has built with customers over the years, and expresses that many people enjoy browsing the beautiful clothes the shop has to offer while having a chat. The Dress Circle is proud to stock new and high street brands at a fraction of the original price, ensuring garments are affordable while always looking fabulous.
Coes was established in 1928 by William David Coe (or Billy as he was known) when he was just 21 years old. The shop was already a gentleman's outfitters run by Mr Hubbard who, unfortunately, had gone bankrupt. When Billy's opened Coes, his stock value was just £100, so he filled the shop with empty boxes to make it look full. Now, with multiple stores around East Anglia, every shop boasts top-quality fashion for both men and women, including suits, dresses and outwear in a number of different brands. Fiona Coe says: "We love having the ability to listen to what our customers want and to be able to adapt to their needs. We aren't tied down to any particular set of buying or merchandising rules and this gives us the ability to be able to adapt to market demands."
As Coes encourages each and every customer to express individuality, they're celebrating Christmas by focussing on Santa's lesser-known reindeers - giving them their time to shine. They're also hosting a 'win the window' competition with donated prizes worth in-excess of £7,000. To enter, just pop into either their Ipswich, Felixstowe or Maldon stores, sign up to their loyalty system and complete an entry form - no purchase is necessary.
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Ipswich Star. Click the link in the orange box below for details.