‘How would you cook that?’: top questions local shop owners would ask if they were customers | Where you shop matters

At the bakery, no question is too small or too silly. ‘You are able to ask whatever you want,’ says Martha Brown, owner of Forge Bakehouse.
Photograph: India Hobson

Many of us have rediscovered our local high street shops this year as the restrictions of lockdown forced us to stay closer to home. And what we’ve found has been nothing short of remarkable. As well as discovering stores stocked with hidden gems, we’ve found that local shopkeepers can also be fountains of knowledge and helpful advice – bringing a genuine passion to their wares and their trade.

So, to make the most of the myriad benefits of shopping locally, be sure to ask your local shopkeeper questions that draw on their wealth of expertise. Not sure where to start? Here, seven independent local retailers offer their suggestions.

At the fishmonger’s …

Sean Cooper is the owner of Weyfish, a harbourside fishmonger in the historic Old Fish Market in Weymouth, Dorset. Produce lands daily on the quayside opposite

Is it caught locally? Is it fresh?
“Provenance is critical to buying fish, and if it is fresh the monger should be able to tell you what boat landed it or, if not, which market it was bought from,” says Cooper.

Can you prepare that for me?
“A good fishmonger will display whole fish to demonstrate its freshness,” he says. “That same fishmonger should then be able to gut, scale, fillet and steak the fish while you wait.”

How would you cook that?
“A lot of customers want ideas for how to cook their purchase. Should it be grilled, baked, pan fried?”

At the hairdresser or beautician’s …

Amanda Allan is the owner of Heavenly Sensations, a hair, beauty and aesthetics specialist salon in Kirkcaldy, Scotland

Can I see your portfolio?
Before getting an aesthetic treatment, ask to see a portfolio of the therapist’s work,” says Allan. “And ask for a consultation before booking the actual treatment if you are unsure of anything.”

What are the risks and costs involved?
“Be sure to know about these – and the cost of any upkeep – before venturing forward then realising there are hidden costs.”

I have an existing medical condition, will that affect the treatment?
“On arrival, you should fill out a record card with up-to-date medical information, and treatments should not go ahead unless this form is completed.”

At the vintage store …

Rachael Johnson is the owner of The Yesterday Society, a vintage clothes shop in Newcastle upon Tyne, north-east England

What size is this in current sizing?
“Over the years the measurements used for different sizes have changed a lot, so when shopping for vintage you can’t assume that the size on the tag will be the same as that size today. I always advise customers to try items on to be sure they fit how they like before making a purchase.”

How would you wash this?
“The materials used in vintage clothing can be different to modern ‘easy-to-wash’ materials. Once you find that perfect vintage item, it’s a good idea to research how best to wash it to ensure it survives for many years to come.”

What decade is this from? How would you style this?
“I have a lot of customers who at first are nervous about wearing vintage as they don’t know how to style it without looking costumey. I personally don’t limit myself to one decade and much prefer wearing hybrid outfits from a range of vintage styles. Any wardrobe can benefit from a vintage piece or two, and these can be mixed with modern clothing to achieve a more quirky and stylish feel.”

jim poyner, the york photographer, Rafis Spice Box Leeds, spice box, leeds market,

Spice merchant Kevin Fernandez. Photograph: Jim Poyner Photography

At the spice merchant …

Kevin Fernandez is director of family-owned Rafi’s Spicebox, established by his mother Rafi in York, England, in 1989

How old is this spice?
“There is a belief that as spices are dry they have a long shelf life,” says Fernandez. “However, we believe that they are the best as fresh as possible and not stored for too long.”

Can I purchase spices whole?
“Roast and grind them when required – this will ensure the best flavour as ground spices deteriorate quicker than whole spices.”

What about its provenance?
“It is imperative that spices are sourced from countries that produce them for their own consumption and that the quality is the best they can be. At Rafi’s Spicebox, the vast majority of our spices are sourced from India and we are very strict on ensuring the best quality available,” says Fernandez. “This does come at a price but it is definitely worth paying that bit more rather than getting tempted by bargains.”

At the toy shop …

Stuart Andrew is a second-generation toy shop owner who runs Hal Whittaker, an independent toy retailer that’s been in Knutsford, Cheshire, since 1970

What age is this toy suitable for?
“Quite often we recommend products [suitable for children] younger or older than the guidelines, so ask our opinion rather than walk away from something that could potentially be perfect,” says Andrew.

What’s in or popular at the moment?
The toy industry is so fashion driven nowadays with crazes and trends,” he says. “As an independent, we have the ability to react and be in on a trend as soon as it becomes big.”

At the pet store …

Sarah Atkinson has spent her career working with animals, which led to opening Bunny’s Moggy’s Doggy’s Pet Supplies in Chorley, Lancashire, with her husband, Neil, in 2011

I’m thinking of buying this pet, what do I need?
“Many animal purchases are impulse buys so the new owner won’t have done the research into what owning that animal entails,” says Atkinson. “Come in before you buy and we can give you a good understanding of what it’ll cost and what cage or equipment they may need.”

What’s the best food I can give my pet? I’m looking to change my pet’s food, what do you recommend?
“Choosing the right food involves many factors, including animal age, breed, energy requirements, budget, storage considerations and availability,” she says. “These are not questions that you’ll get answered in a supermarket or discount store.”

Where is this raw food from and what is in it?
“Raw feeding has been on the increase for many years,” says Atkinson. “Unlike some of those selling on social media, all raw meats sold via retailers are produced by Defra-licenced manufacturers, which offers traceability and knowledge of composition and backup support.”

Uptons of Bassett

Simon Broadribb of Uptons of Bassett. Photograph: The Electric Eye Photography

At the butcher’s …

Simon Broadribb dreamed about becoming an award-winning butcher as a young teen and achieved his goal by taking ownership of Uptons of Bassett butchers in Southampton, Hampshire, 26 years ago

Where is your beef, lamb or pork from? Is it local or specially bred? Older or younger?
“The latter affects the flavour and how tender the meat is,” says Broadribb.

I’m making a curry, what cut would you recommend?
“Here the cheapest cuts, such as beef cheek, chuck steak, lamb shoulder or even mutton chop, offer far more flavour and are cheaper.”

At the bakery …

Since Martha Brown opened the doors to Forge Bakehouse in 2012, it has become a firm favourite in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, later expanding to bigger premises and adding a cafe

If you have specific dietary requirements, ask what exactly is in each product
“This is a real selling point for bakeries,” says Brown. “We can recommend breads to try if you think you struggle with gluten, for example.”

What do you recommend?
“This will often be met with: ‘What are you going to eat it with?’ as a response,” she says. “As well as the obvious pairings, staff have their own favourites and personal recommendations that they are always happy to share.”

No question is too small or silly
“Shopping in a bakery for your bread and pastries, you are able to ask whatever you want.”

At the wine merchant …

Dipak Patel is the owner of Saltaire Wines in Shipley, West Yorkshire, a specialist supplier of wines, spirits and beers, many of which are craft beers brewed locally

This is what I was thinking of spending, what do you recommend?
Often the decision comes down to price in the end anyway, so it’s helpful to know the budget from the start,” says Patel.

This is what I’m cooking, what goes well with it?
We get asked this question a lot, like what goes well with fish or red meat.”

What’s newly in?
As specialist merchants, we get excited about stocking new products and items that are unusual and can’t be found anywhere else,” he says. “It’s great when we can share this with customers.”

Join Visa in supporting the high street. Shop local – online, or in-store. #Whereyoushopmatters.

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