Belper’s fine mix of supermarkets and indie retailers
Following on from my 2009 visit to Alfreton, Heanor and Ripley in Derbyshire, I was able to pay a fleeting visit this festive season to the nearby town of Belper – famous for its history of textile making, and today part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.
Conveniently, the town’s former Woolies (store #725) is right next to the bus station where I arrived, and is not hard to spot. Opened on 20 May 1938, its frontage is almost identical to that of the Alfreton Woolworths (#684), which opened a year earlier.
Like the North East Woolies sites in Hexham and Morpeth, Belper was one of the first stores to be taken over by another retailer, as part of the package of 51 sites acquired by Iceland just three days after the final Woolworths stores closed down. For a town with a compact centre and a population of little more than 20,000, this does mean that Belper has four decent-sized supermarkets – Iceland, Haldanes, Midlands Co-op and a large Morrisons – within a short distance of one another. On this basis, you do have to question – as campaigners already are doing – whether the town’s potential 80,000 sq ft edge-of-centre Tesco superstore is really necessary.
With Haldanes’ fledgling chain – currently comprised entirely of former Co-op/Somerfield sites – stalled for the moment at 23 stores, Belper was the first opportunity I’d had to see one of its shops. Overall, I felt that the Belper Haldanes’ bright frontage and tasteful fascia made a positive impression on King Street, though I was less convinced by the (albeit timely) window display of windscreen wash and de-icer, or by the store’s broken signage.
For items other than groceries, Belper is less well served by big-name chains or large stores: there is a branch of Wilkinson next to Iceland – plugging much of the hole left by Woolies – as well as the De Bradelei department store, housed in a lovely former mill building next to Morrisons.
However, the town’s predominance of attractive-looking independent shops is a strength that could perhaps be made more of. While admiring the imposing buildings that line the steeply climbing King Street, I spotted plenty of interesting and inviting indie stores, such as Sweet Memories (an old-fashioned confectioners), Cooper’s pork and beef butchers, and the Hall of Frames gallery, housed in part of the Victorian Belper Public Hall.
Belper may not have a huge retail offer, but it makes up for it with character and charm. I’ll hope to return in the future – but preferably on a day when there’s a bit less snow, a bit more sunshine, and when the outside temperature is the right side of freezing…