What could be a better treatment for a tired and troubled soul than an afternoon tour of Chester’s numerous charity shops, in the rain ?
We begin the tour on Frodsham street, known for its high number of charity shops and often criticised shared space road/pavement scheme. Despite this, the street is a busy gateway to the city and has improved in recent years with the addition of businesses such as Bean and Cole, Planet Doughnut and Chester’s traditional Chip shop. First on the list, The Children’s Society is closed on Mondays so we enter the spacious showroom of Hope House on the left hand of the street. A useful series of leaflets explain how the shop raises funds for specialist nursing care and support for seriously ill children and their families. Finds of interest here include a 1977 Kojak annual and a well curated trinket and ornament section. CDs and DVDs , fading physical media fill numerous shelves at 2 for a pound. When I was a lad they were 3 for £40 down the stairs in Our Price. Two impressive Louise Rayner prints add some further local interest to this very positive first shop on the list.
Clare House on the other side of the street has another quality selection of merchandise. The shop regularly displays used Lego sets in its eye catching window displays. I hover over a saucer with a steam train and the month of my birth on, before heading to the upstairs dedicated book and media room. Records, jigsaws, even VHS tapes and your grandad’s music cassette collection line the shelves surround sofas and shelves full of reading material. “Fifa 6!” laughs a youngster browsing the Playstation section. The find of the day is a double CD from our very own Ed Alleyne Johnson- just £1.99 for 31 soothing tracks from the violin busker maestro. I also pick up a book about the construction of Liverpool One including a foreword by the late Duke of Westminster – opening the development which was developed by Grosvenor , was one of the proudest days of his life , he said. Clare House’s sign overlooking the Kaleyards was famously a victim of graffiti vandal “Daka” back in 2013.
British Heart Foundation another popular outlet on the street was once known for its popular Valentine’s Heart messages in the window. Much missed by the foolish romantics, the store is busy with many shoppers in its narrow aisles looking for bargains. The book section has an interesting child orientated guide to drawing demons, but I leave without making a purchase
Next up, Oxfam, well established on the street and split into 2 stores with a separate book and music department. Offering a good range of new and used goods, the window display includes a 1962 Kelly’s business directory of appeals to my inner Chester history geek. Barnado’s- the last charity shop on Frodsham is smaller than the rest , and again packed with shoppers making browsing hard. A raised area at the back of the shop makes me wonder if the building was previously a chemists. A revolving metal stand of LP records evokes the good old days.
Round the corner onto Foregate Street, complete with its new pop art signage on the long empty BHS building is Cancer Research UK. In here I hover over a compilation tape (Missing You) of lovelorn songs from 1992 and note the leaflets for the mysteriously unreported Race for Life- took place on Sunday but wasn’t promoted locally or reported by local media. I saw 4 people in pink tops and a road closure sign but still can’t be sure I’m not in the twilight zone- or Black Mirror in modern terms. That used to be such a big local event before the pandemic
It’s a walk across town to the next port of call Hospice of the Good Shepherd on bustling Northgate street. So bustling in fact, with its numerous popular food and drink establishments including the refurbed Red Lion (with a neon Liquor sign in the window) that I’d favour shared space here to stop triple walkers/fast walkers barging into me or shoving me into the road. The modest Northgate store has a larger sister shop opposite the Northgate arena. Point of interest is another Louise Rayner on the wall.
The much loved Share Shop on Northgate street is the only charity shop in Chester with its own cafe. The charity is well know for its support for the local homeless community via a house building scheme, suspended drinks and a City Road drop in centre. The stairwell is decorated with photographs of clients who Share has helped in the past. Upstairs, a hidden gem, the vintage are with bargain books and another audio visual physical media resting place. The complete WB Yeats for £2 pounds is a great buy alongside a book about Tudor Cheshire- including a whole chapter about Chester’s role as a Port. “Tudor Chester was a small town mostly contained inside its walls… Streets were cluttered up with timber, stacks of gorse and heaps of manure..” (Hardbacks £2, paperbacks £1)
Cancer research (branch 2) ON historic Watergate street is a highlight of the day. Its cave like interior feels like its been carved straight out of the rock and makes for an atmospheric explore. A cyberman egg cup, a haunted Victorian postcard and an edgy customer joking that if charged for a bag he will cancel his purchase are the interesting finds here.
Save the Children on Grosvenor street are sadly Closed Mondays so the tour comes to a sudden end. Places not visited: British Heart Foundation Furniture (Foregate street), Scope (Brook street) Roy Castle Foundation (Boughton). People moan about the alleged prevalence of charity shops, yet I enjoyed the general browsing, and the knowledge that I was supporting good causes with my purchases. Staffed by volunteers High streets would be even poorer without these social enterprises.
Next time: We cross the border to examine Wrexham’s charity shop offering.
*A selection of charity shops was visited on Monday 25th July. Please don’t write in and complain we didn’t visit your favourite one.