What’s behind the door at the Bears Trading Company?

Peter & Darren

Before I interview shopkeeper Darren Simpson of the Bears Trading Company, I hear from various town sources that he is ‘The Man of Tankerton’. He humbly denies this (by declaring he is one of seven from The Talk of Tankerton team), but I can quickly tell that Darren is a man of creative conviction and a spirit that every independent trader needs on his side.

Why did you choose to set up in Tankerton
We very nearly didn’t! Peter and I had been looking for premises for three years and had actually found a farm in Scotland for a bed and breakfast. Then this shop became available which used to sell fruit and veg with a tearoom attached. When we viewed it, the landlady was someone I had worked with previously at Whitstable Castle. It felt like it was meant to be. We renovated it in 2016 and opened in November. Inside we created it into a frontier-style trading post from the early 1900s with clad walls and bears over the fireplaces and we specialise in offering great food and coffee and ice cream in our tea room with gorgeous bears to cuddle and collect along with gift items.
I was born in Castle Road and have lived in Whitstable all of my life, so it was great to be able to stay in the area.

What do you love about your business and working here?
It’s so laid back here and we work with other traders, there’s no ‘them and us’ amongst the shops. To be able to call owners friends is a real achievement. Tankerton has a really strong community.

Are there any funny anecdotes that you can share?
We did have a customer who knocked Peter out once by mistake! He was a dad who had rushed in to buy a present for his daughter’s birthday. He bought a 53-inch teddy bear and Peter carried it out to the gentleman’s car. He accidentally pulled the boot down on top of Peter’s head and knocked him out!

What is special about your products?
We are both from a hospitality background, I’ve trained as a chef and worked in hotels, Peter used to work on cross channel ferries and we are both collectors and love our bears. We wanted to combine our passions into a business for ourselves and endeavour to give all our customers we welcoming, positive experience.
On the bear side we have special cuddle bears for new-born upwards and the special collection bears such as the Charlie Bear collection and Steiff for serious collectors like ourselves. We have a lot of bear and food knowledge!

How do you take your coffee?
Hot and black and it has got to be a decent one. We have a bespoke coffee blend here at Bears Trading that we created especially for us. We only ever tell customers three of the ingredients out of the four to keep it secret. It is a blend of Columbian, Brazillian, New Guinea arabica style coffee beans and the last one is a secret. We are really fussy about our coffee.
A couple of times during the year we try to do a whole day of coffee tastings elsewhere. We have just done one in Brighton. We won’t do local tastings as we don’t want to duplicate what everyone else’s niche is, we will visit places such as London and Birmingham.

What do your customers say about you?
We are well known for our banter with our customers. Peter and I are not your normal quiet shop keepers, once we get to know them we have a laugh and a joke. We sometimes have to warn new customers who may come in during fun chit-chat. It is like welcoming people into our own home. We just want everyone to feel welcomed even doggies!

Why do you think shopping local is important?
To me local independent traders are the heart and soul of any community. There are people out there that rely on shops. We provide a space where people can feel welcomed and talked to, especially if they are on their own. With the Talk of Tankerton group, we give something back as the community too as they support us 52 weeks of the year and if they didn’t, we wouldn’t be here. We arrange new planters, clean up graffiti, arrange Christmas lights and it is all paid for by the local businesses.

What has been your proudest moment or biggest achievement?
Being nominated for Great British High Street awards. This will also be our fourth Christmas here and with the Talk of Tankerton this Christmas is set to be the best yet. I am proud to work with a great team of people who have put their energy into bringing this together.

What is your biggest selling item?
On the food side it would be our sticky salted caramel cake. On the gift side, it would definitely be our bears!

What other shops in Whitstable or Tankerton would you recommend to your customers?
All of them! Any independent shop, go and support them and spend money in them. It is the only way high streets will survive. Even if you just browse and say hello– it all helps.

Editor’s note:
I’m planning to treat my mum to one of their famous savoury afternoon teas and make a guess at that fourth ingredient in their bespoke coffee blend.

What’s behind the Door

Find out more about your local shops and businesses when we go behind the door and talk to the people who own and run them. In this campaign we are finding out interesting facts about the businesses and putting names and faces to the people who they belong to.

We asked friend of Shop by the Sea, Jodi Eeles to go out and find out what she could about the wonderful businesses in Whitstable & Tankerton and this is what she came back with!

Our campaign kicks off with the lovely Lucy from Georges Mini Market in the High Street.

Photos by Deborah Caplan, Honey Bee Visions

Lucy Eason – third generation, from Saturday girl to owner.

I’m excited to go behind the door and meet the owner of the shop that my children adore when we come into Whitstable. Always guaranteed to find something for pocket money – we can never come away empty-handed.

An essential shop for impromptu trips to the seaside for buckets, spades and crabbing nets and more, George’s has been an iconic shop in Whitstable nearly 50 years, so what’s their success down to? The effervescent owner Lucy Eason, tells Shop by the Sea as we go behind the door of George’s.

Why did you choose to set up in Whitstable/Tankerton – I didn’t! George was my grandad and he chose to set up in Whitstable, but he was from Herne Bay. He set up in 1970 with one shop and now it has expanded across three frontages and is one of the largest independent units in the town. My Mum and Dad (Peter and Diana Hopkins) brought George out in the early 90s and were able to expand the business eventually into the three-shop frontage that it is today.

What do you love about your business and working here?
I came on board as a Saturday girl (probably underage at the time) with my sister, and when I was 16, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I came into the business. My dad wasn’t sure there would still be a future for independent businesses at the time, but we are still here!

Two things that we love; one is the continual new stock, with the change in seasons and the change in ranges that we stock, so when a delivery comes in, it’s like Christmas – sometimes there is a shriek of ‘who ordered this?’. We do wonder who thinks of the things that we sell! We have really great links with our suppliers and reps because we have been here so long and that helps us to find unique items. The second thing is the culture of our staff, we are really tight-knit and we look after each other.

What is special about your products?

They are fun and practical, all at the same time and a little bit
unusual and interesting, which is a massive pull into the shop. We are always here for people who decide to visit last minute and need some essentials and those who are looking for that unique card or gift.

Who inspired you? My dad is the biggest inspiration, he was the one who set me along this path. I also find women in business inspirational now that I’m running a young family and a business.

How do you take your coffee? I love a cup of tea and the drinks breaks are essential to the smooth running of George’s! (I can vouch for this as a tea run update came across the walky-talky system between staff at one point during the interview). Our test of a Saturday person used to be – could they make a good cuppa!

What do your customers say about you? Aladdin’s cave, a treasure trove and they would say there’s always something to look at.

Why do you think shopping local is important?
It is IMPERATIVE to the survival of all our independent businesses. We can’t survive as a business on our own. We need all the other independent shops on the high street to provide what makes Whitstable wonderful and what makes people come into Whitstable. They don’t come in just for one thing, but if they do, they have a plethora of other things to choose from for shopping and eating.

What has been your proudest moment or biggest achievement?
Surviving! Just surviving really this long. I’m proud of the shop and how it looks. I’m proud of our staff and how they have adapted over time as things have changed. I am also massively proud that we have finally gone online, which is very daunting. It has been a huge challenge and taken us out of our comfort zone. We have injected our character into the website, which has taken our business beyond Whitstable. The majority of the online customers don’t live here, so it is a different offering. We have had orders from Belfast, Scotland. We are doing it to compensate on the losses that are in the shop as footfall has gone down historically in all high streets. It is not detracting from the high street, it is adding to our business.

What is your biggest selling item?
We think it must be crabbing drop nets – the best entertainment money can buy across the summer!

What other shops in Whitstable or Tankerton would you recommend to your customers?
All of them! As all together they create Whitstable and Tankerton’s greatest tapestry of shops. I am particularly fond of the coronation chicken sandwiches at Tea & Times though!

Editor’s note: As usual, I didn’t come away from George’s empty handed, but instead left with a
wind-up trembling panda toy (my seven year old loves it), a grow your own panda and grow your own crystal tree – stocking fillers at the ready! Tip – Panda’s are the new unicorns!

How exciting!

Tankerton has been shortlisted for the Rising Star Award – Great British High Street 2019

The lovely High Street in Tankerton needs your support so please follow the link and vote for them. The folk at Talk of Tankerton work really hard putting on events and making the High Street look great and family-friendly, it will be really nice to see the hard work pay off and win the award. Good luck Tankerton!

A Molluscs Tale

As far back as the Romans, oysters were not the delicacy they are today, mainly eaten by the poor because they were cheap to buy or foraged from the sea. During the early 19th century the biggest provider of oysters worldwide was New York harbour.

As many as six thousand oysters could be found on barges along the city’s harbour on any one day and the people of the city loved them. They were a source of affordable nutrition and the industry provided much-needed employment for hundreds of local men and women.

Demand was so great it eventually drained many of the oyster beds, when foreign oysters were introduced in an attempt to help raise stock levels they also introduced disease, this along with effluent and a rise in sedimentation from erosion, most of the New York beds were empty by the beginning of the 20th century.

The popularity and demand for the wild oyster led to shortages which in turn led to big price increases, oysters were no longer accessible to the working classes and became the expensive delicacy they are considered today.

Wild oysters are especially are a great source of minerals including iron, zinc and selenium as well as vitamin B12 especially when eaten raw.

This weekend the famous Whitstable oyster is being celebrated at the family-friendly Oyster Festival, go along and have a taste of the sea there is nothing like it find out why they have been so popular for thousands of years.

A Little bit of Heaven

Whitstable’s traditional charms, strong arts culture and rich maritime history sit easily with its renaissance. Its main streets are packed with craft shops and galleries, delis and fashion shops trading side by side with butchers and bakers. Stories from Whitstable’s past unfold at the town museum where history is brought to life in displays and permanent and temporary exhibitions.

Along the coast at Tankerton, grassy slopes dip to meet the sea, throwing out an invitation to visitors and locals to walk along the prom and take in some bracing sea air. And, of course, there are Whitstable’s oysters, which remain an intrinsic part of this sea town’s. Oysters and other fruits of the sea can be enjoyed in local restaurants and pubs or taken home from the fresh fish market at the harbour.