In 1972, photographer John Londei started taking pictures of small, independent shops across the UK, aiming to capture the time-worn presence of these already antiquated businesses...
... In 2004, he retraced his steps and found that only seven of the 60 shops he had photographed were still in business. He promised the shopkeepers that the photographs would one day feature in a book, which is now published. A selection of the photographs is now on display at the National Portrait Gallery and today Retail Week takes a look at an era of retailing now consigned to history.

Platt’s Provision Store, 1982
35 Eastgate, Louth, Lincolnshire

Bill Platt, proprietor, and colleague Joan Arliss

Bill Platt’s father took over the provision store in 1913. “My father was a ‘pukka’ grocer. He was a real grocer because he was apprenticed,” he said.

His father had been sent down to Bristol at the age of 14 to learn the trade. “I didn’t serve an apprenticeship… I’ve been here since I was four,” said Platt.

In 1926, Platt became the owner and, during the war, left the shop under the care of a manager while he spent four years in the army. His colleague and friend Joan Arliss joined the store in 1947.

The shop closed in 1986 when he retired and he lived above the empty store for two more years. A friend took it over in 1988 to run it as a newsagent. It is now a bookshop called Wrights of Louth.

Basket Maker, 1982
34 Station Street, Swaffham, Norfolk
Oliver Meek, proprietor

Photographed here at the age of 86, Oliver Meek was the last in a line of basket makers stretching back seven generations.

He learnt his craft from his father at a time when most small towns and villages had a basket maker. He set up his store in a former coach works – Swaffham being the ideal location because of its abundance of reeds.

Meek was always ready to talk to passers-by. “I get plenty of time to think sitting here,” he said. “Not a day goes by that somebody doesn’t come in and talk over their problems; money, mostly. Some ask about God and religion. I’ve seen many things and heard of many more.”

Old age forced Meek to retire at about 90 years old in the mid 1980s and the shop sat empty for two years. It is now a house.

Contraceptives shop, 1983
15 Broad Street, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, North Staffordshire
Frank Gedge, proprietor

Frank Gedge’s father opened this shop in 1935. During the war, business was affected by a scarcity of rubber.

“It’s only comparatively recently that it’s been the custom to leave them [contraceptives] above the counter. There will always be those who prefer to come to me rather than ask a young girl on the Boots counter,” he said.

“We have some funny types in here. They hang about for a while, trying to delay, then they ask if I sell any other aids. We had one man who asked if I had a fitting room.”

Gedge learnt a lot about the sex lives of Stoke-on-Trent’s residents. “They shuffle on the spot. I always know when they want to talk,” he said.

For the past 18 years, the site has been home to a takeaway called Rendez-Vous Kebab.

His Nibs pen shop, 1984
182 Drury Lane, London WC2
Philip Poole, proprietor

Philip Poole had been in the pen business for 59 years. “In the late 1950s, I went through a sticky patch when ballpoint prices dropped dramatically. But I hung on to concentrate on steel nibs,” he said.

Landlords did not make his life easy. In 1976, they ended the lease on his first store after deciding to redevelop it. And of his store at Drury Lane, he said: “They’re trying to get me out. I’ve got a lease that runs for another seven years, but it’s got all sorts of clauses allowing them to get it back.”

By the late 1980s, rising lease costs had forced Poole to abandon Drury Lane for another space in Great Russell Street. After Poole died in 1999, his son set up a His Nibs web site, which he dedicated to his father. The former Drury Lane store is now an office.

Kim’s Dogs Beauty Saloon, 1984
4 Bristol Gardens, Notting Hill, London W9
Freeda Carson, proprietor, with Kim

Freeda Carson opened her saloon in Maida Vale in 1955. It was named after her succession of poodles, all of which were called Kim. In her heyday, Carson employed several assistants and was able to handle 10 dogs a day.

She was 80 years old when this photo was taken. “I’m much too old. My hands are not strong anymore. It takes about two and a half hours of hard work to do a dog,” she said.

The shop stood on a desirable site, but Carson had an old lease and couldn’t be evicted. The landlord, eager to sell the property, was forced to sit it out and refused to carry out repairs. Carson died shortly after this photo was taken.

The old store is now an office and the rest of the building has been converted into flats.

Morrison’s Chemist, 1973
101 Leather Lane, London EC1
From left: John Morrison, proprietor, with colleagues Manita Foley and George Cook

John Morrison took over the business in 1946. “People would come and see me with their ailments and pains before they would go to the doctor. I would usually fix them up. We took a great load off the doctors,” he said.

In the 1970s, Morrison sold his business to two brothers, who gave it a drastic revamp. But Morrison’s skills and customer base were invaluable, so the brothers invited him back to work on a part-time basis in mainly self-service modern surroundings, where chrome had replaced wood.

“It had to change,” said Morrison. “It’s all very romantic to imagine we were happy working in those conditions. It’s a business, not a museum, you see. Now people come in for one thing and go out with three.” He retired in the early 1980s.

The Shutting Up Shop exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London will run until May 4, 2008. Extracts are taken from the book Shutting Up Shop, published by Dewi Lewis Publishing, priced£19.99. Photographs and extracts are copyright of John Londei.