Shops shape the character of a place… and so do the characters that run those shops.
Now a new book has shed light on 60 years of the changing face of businesses in Stonehaven, highlighting lost gems, iconic characters, those who stood the test of time – plus the new opportunities opening up.
From cats in sweet shops to pool tables in chippers, Donald Mitchell’s guide to Stonehaven Shops 1960-2020 is a fascinating read and bound to evoke many memories. It is also an excellent snapshot of the changes and challenges faced by many north-east communities over the decades.
Totally different town
Donald, who ran a hairdressing salon in the town for more than 40 years, starts his look back in 1960, not long after he moved to Stonehaven from Turriff as an 11-year-old loon when his parents took over the Star Inn.
“It was a totally different town then, both size-wise and we didn’t have AWPRs or things like that,” he said. “It had a lemonade factory, a net factory, a tannery, a cinema, a sweet factory, a distillery and an auction mart.
“It was a bustling little town and in the summer it took off with holiday-makers and boarding houses, the caravan site and the open-air pool. And we had a wide range of shops, we had 10 grocers at least, maybe more, there were 17 pubs and hotels. We had three ironmongers.
“There were many baker shops, two down the old town – Mr Aitken and Mr McKenzie – then you had George Robertson, Mitchell and Muil, Duncan’s, just such a range.”
Stonehaven had more than its share of memorable shops and businesses and the people who ran them.
Lovely little lady
One institution was Maggie Arthur’s sweetie shop at Bridge of Cowie.
“Miss Arthur was a lovely little lady,” said Donald. “She was the kids’ favourite because she would just take a handful of sweets and pop them in the bag and that was it, no weighing or scales.
“Gordon Ramsay (of the Stonehaven Tolbooth Association) mentions Maggie Arthur’s in the foreword to the book and I quite like the bit that his mum was horrified when she went in and saw a cat sitting on top of the boxes of sweets.”
Some of the places that Donald has fond memories of include those that are long gone, including the town’s Picture House which once stood on Allardice Street on the site of the present-day Bruce Court houses.
“It was very popular and the cinema manager at that time was a Mr Knowles. He went under the nickname of ‘Thud’, because you could hear him coming down the central aisle of the cinema,” said Donald.
Top hits on jukebox
“If anyone was misbehaving he would come down and shine his torch on you. He was a character.”
Donald also spent a lot of time in Yules, the model shop on Allardice Street and also remembers when the town’s Sports Emporium on Evan Street started selling records.
“It was in the days when you started to get into music and you would go along to buy your single or LP once you’d saved up enough money… folk will be saying: ‘what’s an LP?’”
Then there were some of the quirks that featured in the town’s institutions back in the day.
“There was Freddie (Zaccarini’s) chip shop at the far end of Barclay Street, where the Chinese take-out is today.
“It was a popular place when you were young lads. It had two snooker tables through in the back room.
“The Stance Café (next door) was popular too, because the owner, Ron Camilli, always had the latest hits in his jukebox.”
It was in the chipper and café he spent the money earned as a message boy for local grocer’s, Mr Main.
Sweet royal visit
“All the shops had message boys and we all met on our bikes at the egg-packing station at Millhaugh, where the carwash at the Mill Inn filling station is now,” said Donald, who remembers carefully negotiating back to the shop on his message bike without breaking any eggs the shop needed for the week.
While many of the shops have vanished, there are those that are still going from strength to strength today – such as E Giulianotti, Stonehaven’s revered sweetie shop, which dates back to 1899 and is still winning awards today.
Its fame isn’t limited to Stonehaven. It has seen visits from both the Hairy Bikers and Prince Charles with Camilla, Duchess of Rothesay.
Another name that has stood the test of time is Waldie’s the newsagent, albeit changing hands many times, as well as the shoe shop, D E Shoes, or Dundee Equitable to give it its older title.
Other long-lasting institutions include the town’s hostelries – at one time there was 17 of them – such as the Marine Hotel and the Ship Inn at the harbour.
And the art deco Carron Restaurant has survived over the years, going from a supermarket stock room at one point before becoming a restaurant again, now as the popular Indian spot, Carron To Mumbai.
Donald decided to write the book – pitched as a guided walk around the town – after a series of talks on how Stonehaven’s retail scene has changed prompted a warm and evocative response from audience members.
Adding fun information
“It was quite amazing,” he said. “Just for example, people have forgotten there was a jewellers on Evan Street, but one or two folk at the talks were saying: ‘But, I got my wedding ring there’ and things like that. It was fun and you could always add a bit in when you got that information.
“People were saying you should put this down in book form and have a record of it… and that’s really what we have come up with.”
His interest in the town’s shopping history goes back to 2013, when the Stonehaven Business Association was celebrating its 40th anniversary and asked Donald and local butcher Charlie McHardy to write a resume of the businesses operating when the association started.
“We produced some information about the shops at that time and produced a slide show, showing the shops that were there. It seemed to down quite well,” said Donald, adding it led to him giving his talks to numerous clubs and societies in the town.
Stonehaven Shops shows just how much the town has changed over the years, from the days when everything you could want or need could be found within its boundaries, from tailors and drapers, to television and electronic shops.
“It was very much self-contained. When you went up to the top of the town, the Station Hotel and the station itself was the edge of the town,” said Donald.
Buzz around the town
”You could literally stay and shop in the town without going to Aberdeen, if you wanted to.”
However, there is little doubt that while the town is changing it is still a bustling, community-spirited place and will be for the foreseeable future.
“I just hope everyone here survives in the torrid time of Covid. But the shops we have here seem to be surviving. We have lots of wee coffee shops and cafes now and that is always a good thing keeping a wee buzz around the town.”
Donald hopes his book will give readers “a wee bit of enjoyment and memories”.
“The feedback has been good, a lot of people were saying things like ‘oh, it’s nice to remember what was there’ or ‘I had forgotten that was there’. It just brings back memories of the town and what it was.”
Bring back the cinema
But were Donald able to wave a magic wand and bring back one shop, what would it be?
“I better not say Maggie Arthur’s, because it was one of my favourites and I would be just buying sweets if I went back there,” he joked.
“But the one thing I would bring back would be the cinema. I think the town could do with a cinema and it’s a shame we ever lost it.”
Stonehaven Shops 1960 – 2020 is available from a variety of shops and also from Stonehaven Tolbooth Museum. For details visit www.stonehaventolbooth.co.uk