Shop Local: Butchers Row vibe keeps innovation going through the pandemic

Butchers Row in Barnstaple.

Butchers Row in Barnstaple. - Credit: Matt Smart

Barnstaple’s Butchers Row has many new shops which have been innovating like mad to cope with the ‘new normal’ of the coronavirus pandemic.

Just as Covid-19 reared its head we reported that the Row was finally full again, after a number of units had stood empty for some time.

Sadly, it has just been announced that the Potato Station has had to close its doors.

The shop’s owners said they were going out with ‘their heads held high’ after two years in Butchers Row.

But many of the other food and produce units have been busy adapting and this week the next instalment of our Shop Local campaign looks at how they are surviving and even thriving during the pandemic.

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The Crafty Beer Shop reports sales are up 40 per cent on last year and it has hit on the perfect application of the ‘rule of six’ as its indoor table only seats half a dozen, leading to the creation of the ‘Crafty Lock-in’ evenings.

Co-owner Lisa Timpson explained groups can book the table for the evening while they sample the wide range of craft beers on offer. Outdoor socially distanced seating is also available – with blankets.

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She said: “We have not really stopped but have just kept ticking over, which is really positive in this climate and we have worked really hard on what we think people would like.”

Online sales have soared and the shop is now posting out bottles as far afield as Europe.

Eateries Block and Artisarni have both benefitted from the outdoor seating now available thanks to the pedestrianisation of the street, having had to drastically reduce their indoor seating capacity.

Block’s Tran Stephenson said the restaurant had started offering takeaways and delivery as a result of the pandemic.

She said: “It’s made us think on our feet and taken us in a direction we didn’t think we were going to go in, but we’re doing what we need to do. It’s a lot worse for a lot of other people so we’re just happy to be open.”

Ian Morrison at North Devon Chillies said lockdown had given them the opportunity to step back and assess their business – with the result they decided a wider range of chilli-related stock was needed, such as curries and jams.

He said: “I think especially this year it’s massively important that people support their local stores.

“During lockdown we did not take anything and so we are hoping to recoup that at Christmas.

“You can find anything in Butchers Row that you can find in a supermarket – and of better quality.”

Top Meadow Farm butchers opened in the midst of lockdown – butcher Jim Stoneham says since then it has gone from strength to strength.

Referring to the shop’s totally organic, grass fed and free meat, he said: “I can’t see corona going away any time soon, which I think will pull more people into butcher’s shops and grocery shops and they will start seeing the quality.

“Before corona the high street was dying and hopefully with things how they are, it might bring it back a bit.”

Top Meadow also has a busy delivery service and sells online, which Jim says has expanded nationwide as word spread, especially when tourists called in during recent months.

Elsewhere in the Row, South West Cheese and East and West Bakery were both able to provide a service during lockdown, albeit with different ways of working.

Claire Principe of the long-standing East and West Bakery admitted navigating lockdown had been ‘tricky’, but they are back making the usual bread, traditional homemade pasties, pies and confectionary with slightly reduced hours.

She added: “People are doing a lot more ordering and we’re encouraging people to do that a lot more now to make sure nothing is wasted.

“We’re not losing money, but we’re not making money and we’ve still got to make a profit of some sort.”

South West Cheese’s Helen Allen said they had seen more people turn to local providers since lockdown, as well as their vital regular customers.

She said: “We had lots of things people didn’t have, which some people were surprised about, and sometimes people came who didn’t know we are here or had never been to us before.

“Some people are changing the way their way of shopping and not wanting to go to supermarkets, which has made people shop local and to shopping with lots of other people.”

Artisarni’s Cath Burridge said there is certainly a ‘shop local’ mindset in town, even if things have quietened down slightly since the end of the holiday season.

She said: “The customers have been amazing and everyone has been following the guidelines and we’ve not had a cross word from anybody.

“People are using locals more I feel and are very mindful that it’s important do that. On busy days it’s amazing and the street has such a nice feel to it.

“Everyone is trying their best, and we’ve got to be there for locals too.”

The Cupcakery’s Hannah Stokes said the ‘shop local’ drive was there even before lockdown.

She said: “People are definitely shopping more local. Before lockdown was confirmed people were coming in and buying gift cards for when we reopened to make sure we could carry on. I’ve got really good customers!”

Pots and Pans’ Jason Bidwell was confident on the outlook heading into 2021.

He said: “We’ve done our very best to stay open as much as we can with the guidelines. People have used us and we’ve been welcomed by holiday makers.

“We are happy and confident people will continue to shop with us.

“Butchers Row is being visited by a lots of people and it’s got a nice vibe about it.”

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