“A huge lorry would park on the street and out would come trays of beautiful Belgian chocolates..”
Celebrating its 21st birthday this year, this iconic retail shop, Anne of Loudounville, is owned and run by mother and daughter team, Anne Mitchell and Morag Clinch.
If you have ever wondered where the name came from, Anne told us,
“My roots are in South West Scotland, near Loudoun Castle, and my late husband Andrew ministered in Loudounville, New York for a time, so the choice of name for the shop was clear from the outset!”
Anne Mitchell first came up with the idea of becoming a retailer when she was busy at home making her homemade tablet. Anne knew it was a great recipe and wanted to expand her customer base which had been up to that time friends and family.
“I was realistic though and knew that selling tablet alone was not going to make opening a shop commercially viable! I had a love of fine chocolate and had a gut feeling there would be a market for this in Helensburgh. It was different in the eighties, instead of going out to restaurants and cafes like we do now, we went to friends houses for dinner. You would take along a gift of wine , lovely chocolates or flowers. I sourced a supplier of Belgian chocolates and two months later the shop was open!”
“The chocolate was of the highest quality. The only other chocolatier around at the time was Thorntons, back in the day when they sold good quality chocolate. I think we were ahead of our time, nowadays you can pick up really good chocolate in your local supermarket, in the mid eighties it was far more difficult to come by. All you could get was chocolate made with a high quantity of sugar and fat.
We had cabinets specially made for our chocolate, the shop looked amazing and a huge lorry would arrive and unpack cases of handmade chocolates! We still have the cabinets now but they are now used for displaying jewellery, ceramics and other gift items.
“I remember one customer coming in and complaining that he hadn’t enjoyed the chocolates that he had bought and wanted a refund. When we asked to see the chocolates to check the quality he handed us the box and he had eaten 22 out of 24 chocolates in it! Needless to say he didn’t get his money back.
About 15 years ago, the market started to change, people were going out for dinner to restaurants, dinner parties were not so popular and the gift market had changed. We started to look at different retail lines, costume jewellery, ceramics and handbags. Its funny though, chocolate has had a brand overhaul and now there are hundreds of independent chocolatiers in the UK and many from Scotland.
“ I was recently on Buchanan street and stopped off at the new Hotel Chocolat which has just opened. It was amazing and the smell really brought back memories of our shop!”
One particular designer caught their eye when down in London at an International jewellery fair. Anne said,
“I went out to do a bit of shopping in Covent Garden and walked past the Lulu Guinness shop. I was immediately drawn to the beautiful, quirky, colourful handbags. I went in and enquired as to whether they would supply to an independent shop and two months later we had them in stock! It was a lovely brand to sell, really beautiful packaging. We remember the day that Lulu Guinness visited the shop, we were the only sole independent retailer she had ever visited and it felt like a state visit! We had ladies from far and wide visit the shop that day, they left with arms dripping in shopping bags, it was great fun”.
Always with a keen eye as to the change in customers needs, Anne and Morag are now heading down different avenues with their products and services in the shop. Wanting to offer something that is unique in Helensburgh they are adding pearl and bead resetting, jewellery and silver evaluation and jewellery repairs to their business. Morag has recently trained with a diamond specialist, and, with a team of valuers working with them they are delighted they can offer this service that would otherwise have seen people travelling into Glasgow.
“With jewellery evaluation especially, people sometimes don’t want to leave their pieces with an unknown jeweller in a big city. We like to think that we are a well known, established shop in Helensburgh where customers would feel happy trusting us with their pieces”.
Asking the mother and daughter team about retailing in Helensburgh, Anne is quick to enthuse,
“Helensburgh has one of the best grid systems in the UK. For customers its brilliant, everything is within walking distance and with the central square it makes it a pleasant experience to visit the shops. We love meeting new visitors, Helensburgh has experienced its ups and downs over the years, but, recently, with new young blood coming into the town in the way of shops and restaurants its an exciting place to be!”