Visiting The Bargain Centre with Roving Reporter Cathy Gibb The earliest purpose built shop in Littleport’s Main Street is the large building that has been occupied mainly by The Littleport Bargain Centre and Barclay’s Bank.
It was built in the 1880’s by Thomas Peacock, the founder of Hope Brothers Shirt Factory, and the first occupants were James Heygate, a clothier, and William Cragg, the butcher.
I admit to being a regular visitor to the Bargain Centre that has a resemblance in a way to that popular television series “Open All Hours”, not least because they are proud to be of traditional service, only closing when the last customer actually leaves and they still have half day closing on Wednesdays.
Friendly proprietor Jill Harrison has worked there for over 40 years, but now intends to retire next year handing over the reins to the competent and capable co-worker and niece Joanne Yates Brown. Joanne’s mother Sheila Yates along with her sister Jill were original Bargain Centre employees when they first started in a small shop next to Laburnum Lodge further up the street. Sheila was still working in the shop until she became 28 gravely ill, and sadly passed over 10 years ago at only 66 years of age. With yet another reminder of Arkwright’s in ‘Open All Hours’ the Bargain Centre has one of those original ringing cashmachines, as Joanne was pleased to demonstrate to me. “It is always handy when we have the odd power cut,” she said.
Jill and Jo are always on hand to assist and help and are now working in their new but smaller premises after swapping with Sigma Embroidery next door! “The difference with us here at The Littleport Bargain Centre is that we are not being told what to sell or told what to buy. Whenever a customer comes through that door, if we know we can get it, we will get it for them. We are a phone call away from ordering anything a customer may need” said Jo, who was very young when she first started working there and is now celebrating her 37th year.
You will also find that nothing is too much trouble for these tireless workers. “We have a room if anyone wishes to try anything on, or we will have the odd customer come in just needing to catch their breath, or their legs hurt, so we provide a chair for them to sit before going on to the next stage of their shopping trip.
We also run a dry cleaning and alteration (sewing) service which some people might not know about. In fact we are indebted to our sewing expert Gwen who used to work at the Burberry Factory, and just the other week she was altering a customer’s dog jacket” said Jill, who philosophically pointed out that every generation will get older and will too find themselves shopping at the Bargain Centre more often in the years to come.
“We get customers coming from as far as Cambridge, Mildenhall and Downham Market because we stock exactly what these customers want. We are a bit like Adams’ used to be because for instance instead of buying a whole ribbon roll, you can purchase a metre, or if you want only one button we will sell you a button and not a whole packet,” Joanne told Littleport Life. They are also rightly proud of their extensive stock of larger sized undergarments, bras, socks and night wear.
After so many years in the business as you would imagine Jill has many amusing tales to tell, and among them the time when in the early 70’s they decked their whole shop out in tartan because of the Bay City Rollers mania.
As I was leaving the shop, Jill’s husband Alan was seen with tools in hand widening the front door of the shop to accommodate wheelchair users which just shows you that The Bargain Centre really does take that extra effort to make all its customers, who are also seen as their friends, welcome.