Award-winning town’s temptations

Words by:
Melanie Burton
Featured in:
September 2013

The town of Louth in the picturesque Lincolnshire Wolds may be steeped in history but it is certainly not stuck in the past.
Forward thinking and packed with a plethora of independent shops and businesses, it has a unique character which means it secures a special place in the hearts of everyone who visits.

Positive in attitude and with a customer service second to none, Louth has enjoyed a good and successful year with a string of awards, a host of new faces around the town and plenty to offer tourists, residents and traders alike.

Louth Town Partnership co-ordinator Samantha Phillips said there is plenty happening in the town. It received a Silver Gilt award in last year’s East Midlands in Bloom competition but it has its sights set on gold this year.

“We have done all sorts, including the town’s first festival of the bee! We have a great community who have been painting bollards, yarn bombing and many businesses sponsored extra floral arrangements in the town,” said Samantha.

This is only the second year Louth has entered into the East Midlands in Bloom competition and the theme for this year’s competition is ‘edible’ to help highlight the town’s green-fingered community volunteers and growing projects.

Judging took place at the beginning of July but the results won’t be announced until later this month (September).

The Festival of the Bee was organised by Transition Town Louth and Louth in Bloom and involved a family fun day with stalls, games and competitions, a special art exhibition featuring works by botanical artists and others who draw their inspiration from bees or flowers, and a free Conference Day involving bee and flower-related exhibitions, stalls, workshops and talks about wild bees, wild flowers, beekeeping abroad and art inspired by bees.

The Town Partnership has also helped to put Louth on the cultural map with its annual summer festival, the Zero Degrees Festival, which is a celebration of community and culture in the town.

“This year saw some of the top named comedians take centre stage and the festival had something for everyone including football, a visual arts trail, a party in the church and also the popular Louth Food Festival,” said Samantha.

“Future events to look forward to include the Victorian Family Fayre on 20th October and the Christmas Craft Market, which is happening on 1st December.”

While a good number of the long-established businesses in the town have been scooping up awards, many new shops have come to town over the summer months, from milkshake bars to antiques sellers.

“Louth is well below average in its shop vacancy rates. We have an estate agent in the town who is keen to encourage new start-up businesses into units in the New Market Hall, and we still have a vibrant three-day market with a monthly farmers’ market,” said Samantha.

What makes Louth so special is its abundance of long-established, family-run shops and businesses which give the town a character all of its own and makes it a place that can be rarely matched anywhere else in the country.

Striacraft Jewellery is one such retailer. Based in Butcher Lane, it is Louth’s longest established family jeweller having been trading at its current address for thirty-five years. Opened by Phillip Cartledge and his wife Ranka back in 1978, it now has its own workshop on site and undertakes most repair work and engraving work. Two years ago it became a fully-fledged family business when son Oliver joined the team full-time.

“We are very traditional jewellers, with huge stocks of high quality diamond, gold and silver jewellery and we are always trying to keep up with the latest trends,” said Phillip.

It stocks some of the most popular jewellery brands including Hot Diamonds, By Biehl, with the newest being MY iMenso interchangeable coin jewellery. It is also agent for many watch brands, including Citizen and Roamer.

“We have also started to deal in pre-owned luxury watches such as Rolex and Omega. Trading has been tough over the last couple of years, with the economic climate as it is, but our loyal customer base and reputation for quality products and high standards of work has ensured that we can keep ourselves busy,” said Phillip.

Another name which has been long associated with the town is Luck of Louth, which was established in 1985. It offers a traditional English country shopping experience and stocks an extensive range of menswear, ladieswear and accessories, luggage, handbags, leather goods and footwear.

Luck of Louth has always focused on providing customers with quality and value from trusted brands as well as an excellent customer service – both in-store and online.

Its commitment to those principles has paid off. It was included in the Drapers Record list of ‘The Top 100 Inspiring Independents’ in February 2012, and has risen even higher on the same Drapers listing of top UK independent shops this year.

In its shoe shop there are now three qualified shoe fitters, with Vicky Allen recently joining Jim and shoe shop manager Vanessa as a qualified shoe fitter.

Owner, Jim Luck said: “We are an award-winning company. Our focus is on offering premium products, brands and service and because of that we have twice been voted onto Drapers’ top 100 independent shops list.

“In our quest to provide the best possible shoe fitting service, our fully-qualified shoe shop staff are all trained to the very highest industry-recognised standards – our achievement is probably unique in Louth.

“Business has again been very positive this year. There have been a few changes in shops in the town, but in contrast to other places Louth shops soon become filled up again which is encouraging for the town.

“There is quite a diverse range of shops in the town and we have more independent businesses than in most other towns.”

Summer has been hectic throughout all five of Luck’s shops.

“For shops in general it is a very positive indication of things to come. Our present positive position, there is no doubt, is very much because we have very good staff,” said Jim.

“One of the things that has helped local independent retailers achieve recognition and success is the quality of their staff and their service.”

Officially appointed stockist for a significant number of long-established premium brands, the business will this autumn welcome lifestyle clothing company Gant into its product portfolio, as well as increasing its commitment to sailing, countrywear and equestrian brand Musto.

Luck of Louth has five shops across two sites in the town and also has an online store offering a large selection of premium quality brands too.

Relative newcomer to the town Damselfly has quickly established itself as a familiar part of the streetscene in Louth. The Damselfly brand began in 2009 when owner, Pip Molloy took over the original Dragonfly Kitchen shop which she helped to open in early 2002.

In keeping with its roots, Pip renamed it Damselfly and more than four years on it is still going from strength to strength.

In 2011 Pip took over another of the Dragonfly chain of shops and opened it as the ever popular Damselfly Living shop which stocks everything you need to make your house your dream home.

And she hasn’t stopped there either. She has recently relocated the kitchen shop to larger premises in order to expand the current kitchen and cake decorating lines, as well as adding some new lines too.

The Damselfly Living shop is located at 122 Eastgate and is picturesque in itself, with a double-windowed frontage, an atrium ceiling which allows natural light to flood into the shop and a purpose-built ‘greenhouse’ which provides an ideal backdrop for silk flowers and lighting, art, leather trunks and many more items for your lifestyle and home.

“I opened the lifestyle shop two years ago and that is going very well,” said Pip. “We have just opened a large Culinary Concepts section in the shop after being chosen to be a flagship display area for the company. There are only six in the UK.

“We are also doing a lot to extend our art and pictures range and that is going really well too.”

Pip is proud to be a Ludensian.

“I am a Louth person born and bred. My great-grandfather had a shop in the town and Louth is such a lovely place. It has a special place in my heart.”

Another newcomer to the town is Bromley of Louth in Mercer Row. For the past seven years, it has successfully traded under the management of Andy Hughes.

He started the business with plenty of experience after being a buyer for several designer clothes shops for more than twenty years.

“Louth is a special town because it is full of independent retailers, whether it is womenswear, menswear or footwear,” he said. “We attract people from far and wide who all compliment us on what an individual town Louth is.

“There are not a lot of multiples in the town but we have a lot of independent shops on the high street which makes Louth special.

“It is quite a positive town in its outlook and very traditional, with fruit and veg shops showing their produce on displays in the street.”

Bromley of Louth specialises in designwear and caters for shoppers from eighteen to eighty years of age.

“We cater across the board, be it classy or fashion and stock brands from all over the country and even abroad that you can’t get on the high street,” said Andy.

Watermill Interiors is another new business in the town, which opened on the Fairfield Industrial Estate on Tattershall Way in July, and is a new kitchen and bathroom showroom venture.

Business partners, Hayley Wood and Colin Adams, who met through Jackson’s in Louth, hope to add to their team soon, creating jobs as trade increases.

One thing which has been close to everyone’s hearts is the threat of out-of-town supermarkets being opened up, which has been blamed for decimating trade in a number of towns and cities up and down the country.

But there is a band of volunteers in Louth which is working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Keep Louth Special (KLS) is an active community group, founded in 2008, to protect the town from such a threat.

KLS spokesman, Nick Louth said: “It focuses on the idea that the town is under-recognised for its unique shops and architecture and as a Georgian market town, both by the district council and by the people who live here.

“People don’t appreciate how rare it is. It has everything you need including really good quality food, all locally sourced and their provenance known.

“Louth offers the whole supermarket shopping experience but not under one roof.”

Louth seems to have more than its fair share of award-winning businesses, gathering not only close-to-home accolades but regional and national ones as well.

It is no secret that the town’s master butchers have scooped plenty of awards over the years but 2013 has proved to be a year of celebrations for many.

The Gas Lamp Lounge was named as one of the UK’s Top 150 Local Real Ale Pubs after local members of CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) voted it as Town Pub of the Year 2012–13 based on its customer service, value for money, decor, customer mix, atmosphere and quality of beer.

The pub on Thames Street opened twenty months ago and customers get to taste real local ales from the Fulstow Brewery – which is on the same site as the pub.

CAMRA also voted Louth’s Town & Country Club in Cannon Street as Club of the Year for the third time running.

The already multi-award-winning Meridian Meats on Eastgate also won gold at a high profile international food contest in Belgium this year.

The Meat Expo 2013 International Product Of The Year award was presented to the family firm for its home cured, pressed ox tongue. The firm also received a silver award for its Toulouse Sausages and bronze for its Lamb Tagine Pie.

The town’s Argos store has also won a number of awards including Best Store in the country in its in-house accolades.

Louth Town Partnership has also run an awards competition together with the local newspaper and local training provider Totem Training.

Louth Independent Business Awards aimed to encourage people to nominate their favourite independent businesses in the town.

Louth Town Partnership Co-ordinator, Samantha Phillips said: “We wanted to celebrate our independent shop owners, as they play such a big part in making Louth so special. And the awards didn’t disappoint.

New business Jassies Sweet Shop proved to be the town’s favourite, scooping three awards in its first year of trading. It was voted Favourite Independent Retailer, Favourite for Customer Service and was the Overall winner as well.

“It is a good success story as this is a new business to the town,” said Samantha.

Jassies Sweet Shop has only been open in Pawnshop Passage since November. It sells about 160 varieties of traditional sweets, a range of lollipops, chocolates, nougat, chew bars and liquorice sticks and a mouthwatering selection of award-winning Blyton Dairy Ice Cream and milkshakes.

It also provides gift baskets and hampers, personalised jars and sweet buffets for weddings and other celebrations.

It has only been part of Louth’s fabric for four years but it has already made a significant mark on the town.

Damselfly Kitchen has proved to be so successful it has had to expand into bigger premises and its sister shop Damselfly Living is also going from strength to strength.

Owner, Pip Molloy launched the Damselfly brand in 2009 when she took over the original Dragonfly Kitchen shop which she had helped to open in early 2002, and renamed it Damselfly Kitchen.

“We took over our previous kitchen shop four years ago and because it has gone very well we have had to move to bigger premises just across the road at 73 Eastgate,” she said.

“The shop that was the kitchen shop is now a clearance shop, until September when it will open as a Christmas shop. The idea worked in Germany, so we are going to try it from September until the end of the year which is very exciting for Louth.”

Pip, who is Louth born and bred, said customer service is the key to success for traders in a town like Louth.

“It is an ongoing battle with the internet at the moment but people do generally like the customer service and we try and help people. It’s nice to have a one-to-one relationship with the customers,” said Pip.

“People like to come and see things and to hold the items. My aim is to make sure that people do not need to go outside Louth or on the internet to do their shopping.”

Pip now has eleven staff working across the three shops, including her son Jack who was a business student at university and took a year out to gain experience in the business.

He enjoyed it so much he has taken another year out to continue working there and has taken an active approach during the renovation and establishment of the new Damselfly Kitchen shop.

“The girls are delighted to have a man on the team to climb ladders and move the heavy stock,” joked Pip.

East Lindsey District Council’s plans to sell off Louth’s cattle market site have caused controversy around the town, amid fears that it will become home to a supermarket.

But the Keep Louth Special Group (KLS) has come up with an idea which will not only preserve Louth’s unique character, and the cattle market as well, but will help put the town on the tourist map as a destination for outdoor pursuits.

KLS spokesman, Nick Louth said there are concerns that if a supermarket is built on the five-acre site it will have a bad effect on trade in the town.

“The supermarkets we have now are well integrated in the town but a supermarket at the cattle market site, which is a long walk up the hill, would take shoppers away from the town centre,” he said.

“It is the last livestock market in Lincolnshire. It’s a very important market and it has been a big bonus to the farming community. It’s a social connector for the town and it will be a great loss for farmers and for the town’s pubs and restaurants in terms of business.”

Generally, the stance KLS has always taken is that, if there is to be a supermarket in Louth, it should be close to the town centre and not somewhere shoppers would buy their entire week’s worth of food under one roof.

And that is why it has cautiously welcomed news that Aldi is going to set up shop where the old malt kiln is. Louth’s blot on the landscape, the malt kiln, is derelict and has been redundant for nearly twenty years.

“We cautiously support Aldi. That’s a turnaround for us. The crucial point is that Aldi provides only own brands and has a limited fresh food offering, so it will not be going head-to-head with the town market or the specialist food shops in the town,” said Nick.

“The cattle market site isn’t in the town centre, so a supermarket there would go head-to-head with local traders.”

Now KLS has drawn up its own business plan for the cattle market site.

“We are planning an alternative development there. It would remain as a cattle market and would be a dual-purpose building, but the idea is to have a climbing wall against the livestock market building, a retail courtyard focused on outdoor activities with a series of outdoor businesses and shops, a café that is motorcycle friendly and an amphitheatre for rock concerts,” said Nick.

“I think people will flock to something that is different. I am quite optimistic that we can persuade the people of the town to back us and the town council is very much behind us, as is the NFU.”

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