One town in the Lake District plays host to two of the best stores I’ve been to for a long time

One of the criticisms most often heard of multiple retailers is that their stores have no character or personality. Step off the train at Windermere, and you’re steps away from two stores created by smaller chains which prove the exception. I’m aware that saying that the town’s Booths and Lakeland stores are great is not particularly original - both have been covered in Retail Week some years ago when they opened - but a) I’d never seen either before and b) maintaining excellence is as difficult than creating it, indeed possibly more so.

First Booths, the family owned grocer with stores across the north-west. Booths is often, slightly patronisingly, described as the Waitrose of the north. That’s not really fair. No disrespect to Waitrose, which is an excellent operation but aims to be a national chain. Booths is a north-west business and proud of it. It wears its heart on its sleeve, with signage all over the store bearing pictures of sheep being herded and the slogan “Welcome to Booths country”.

The problem when all you hear about a retailer is superlatives is that they can struggle to live up to them. On both occasions I visited Booths in Windermere had real issues with availability in chilled produce, which must be annoying for regulars. But there was a lot which was outstanding. There was real imagination and depth in the assortment (despite the store being relatively small) and a great focus on quality regional produce. Nowhere was this more evident than on the fresh counters, where there was a genuine attempt to introduce the customers to both new and regional products, and real pride in the displays and the service.

So a very good food store. But the real star of my visit was on the other side of the tracks (or to be more precise, track) at Windermere, the flagship store of Lakeland. Until my visit, Lakeland was an absolute mystery to me - I associated it with selling bored housewives gimmicky products they never knew they wanted.

How wrong I was. While many of the products are still a mystery to me - although some are ingenious, I still cant get excited fathom how anyone could get excited about melon ballers or avocado peelers - but the store does a brilliant job of bringing them to life.

It’s helped by the quality of the building, a wonderful airy structure which doubles as Lakeland’s head office. But what really wins through here is the quality of the staff and the theatre - when I was there someone was demonstrating cupcake baking, someone else using a Nespresso to make coffee and someone else showing off some hoover-type device.

What makes this a great store is the generosity of spirit of the place. Just put those products in a retail shed and you’d have a pretty dull retail experience. Get enthusiastic people to show what they can do - and what better way could there be than to give out free cupcakes - and customers come away feeling good about the whole thing.