‘It’s simple – use it or lose it’: The independent businesses still thriving on Upminster’s high street
PUBLISHED: 07:00 13 November 2018
December 1 is Small Business Saturday. In the first of a series looking at what our independent shopping parades have to offer, chief reporter Matt Clemenson finds out why you should hit the high street and shop local this Christmas
It is a sight that certainly would have been much more commonplace 50 years ago than it is today.
But for shoppers walking down Corbets Tey Road in Upminster, a small taste of a bygone era is still thriving as you walk past Fresh Farm Produce, C. Johnson & Son and Fishy Business – a trio of an independent green grocer, butcher and fish monger all proudly standing alongside one another.
As an Upminster resident myself, and a former Upminster Junior School pupil, it has always been a pleasure to walk past.
A wide range of fresh fish laying on a bed of ice, handwritten chalk boards offering pheasant and partridges in time for Christmas and a burst of ripe pomegranates, apples, clementines and cauliflowers – a marvellous thing to see.
And then, of course, there are the individual stories behind each business that make every little sale that much more personal.
Chi Johnson, of C Johnson and Son, is a seventh generation butcher.
The trade has been in his family’s blood since 1826 and his business cards include a photo of his great-great-grandfather standing proudly outside a butcher’s of his own.
His shop is decorated with award after award, and he takes pride in pointing them out to me on each wall.
He said: “One of the best things about shopping locally is that people know they’re fully supporting a number of local businesses – all of our meat comes from Essex farms in Colchester and Burnham-on-Crouch.
“Not only that, we also employ local people and we actually sell local honey, which is made at the Stewart Avenue Allotments about 400 yards away – you can’t get more local than that.”
And Chi believes small independent businesses also foster a sense of community that larger chain stores can’t match.
He added: “I’ve got regulars I see twice a week and it’s great for them to come in here and have a chat – that’s something you can’t get at a supermarket
“We can offer price matches on almost everything and the quality of meat you get here is going to be far superior to something you’d pick up in Aldi.”
Terry Murphy – whose father used to work at London’s largest fresh fish market in Billingsgate – has run fishmonger’s Fishy Business since 1993, meaning this year marks a quarter of a century serving customers on Upminster’s high street.
The smiling wooden fisherman proudly standing outside his store is as much a landmark of the daytime high street as the bus stop just yards away.
He told me: “In the time that I’ve been here there’s been a lot of really big changes for small businesses.
“I also supply fish to hotels and restaurants as a wholesaler and without that side of my business I wouldn’t be able to keep operating.
“The high street really needs people, and I’m afraid people are going away from the high street.”
Just next door is Dennis Burke, who runs Fresh Farm Produce LTD, the town’s only independent green grocer, and definitely its most colourful.
“It’s simple really,” he said. “When it comes to the high street it’s use it or lose it.
“No disrespect to people who work in supermarkets, I’m not trying to put them down, but if you go in there and ask someone ‘what’s a sweet orange?’ they won’t have a clue.
“The thing about high street businesses is we know what we’re talking about.”
That they most certainly do, and that’s why, in America in 2010, a campaign called Small Business Saturday was launched to urge people to try out some of the independent businesses on their very doorsteps.
In eight years the campaign has grown to become an international movement, and the next international Small Business Saturday will be on December 1 this year.
Why not head down to the trio of independent businesses right here on Corbets Tey Road?
You might even bump into me ordering my 2018 Christmas feast.
And if not, I’m sure Terry, Chi and Dennis will still greet you with a smile or three.