ONE of my favourite butcher’s shops closed today after almost 86 years. I’d shopped the previous week and everything looked normal. But the liquidators were called in before the following weekend.
It’s an all too familiar story, not enough customers prepared to drop in, select a chop or two or a joint and perhaps some eggs, so Roneys lost business to online shopping. It’s the click-click-click of death for the independent trader.
Roneys, on the corner of Sharrowvale and Hickmott Roads, at what it liked to call Pigadilly Circus, had been trading since 1936. When I moved into the area almost 40 years ago it was one of four or five butchers shops within a few hundred yards of each other. Now just one is left.
It’s the second such shop to close under me. The first was Kempka’s on Abbeydale Road, although that was through retirement, and, like Roneys it was primarily a pork butchers.
At Roneys I weekly bought bacon, eggs, ham, sausages, Barnsley chops and the occasional pork hock although I like to spread my favours and bought joints and mince and the Christmas turkey elsewhere. At lunchtime local workmen would queue for a bespoke filled breadcake or something hot, for Roneys was also the home of the “legendary pork sandwich.”
It had put that boast on its facia for years. Before the present owner, Craig Bell, the business had been run by a butcher who was Jewish. Despite being a journalist, I was so used to the place that the incongruity never really struck me.
That is until he decided to get married and in a quiet moment told me a little story. “I have to go to the rabbi and he asks me what I do for a living. I tell him I’m a butcher. He doesn’t ask the next question . . .”
It suddenly dawned on me that this would make a great story for my Diary column in the Sheffield Star: “Is this the only Jewish pork butcher in Britain?” (probably not is the answer) and I was mildly surprised he agreed.
A little while later I got a phone call. He had obviously had a chat with his intended and family and they were dead against it. Would I please not run the story?
Now I could have said bugger that and gone ahead regardless. But a local journalist has to think of the ramifications of what he writes and I didn’t want to upset a marriage at its outset. Besides, what would I do for pork chops?
The facia was full of VIctorian-type advertisements. Legendry and fame were no stranger to this business. “Roneys famous sausages: Warning, contains real meat,” said one. Another hailed the award-winning qualities of its bacon. In the end it did it little good.
Roneys closure has taken locals by surprise. “It always looked busy,” said one. “We had good weeks and bad weeks but lately there were more bad weeks than good,” said the lady assistant taking my last order, half a dozen eggs and some of their lovely ham.
In recent years Roneys had taken to displaying some of its meats in ready wrapped packages, perhaps to imitate supermarkets, but I like my butchers shops to look like one and guide the assistant’s cleaver poised over the joint – “left a bit more” to get exactly what I want.
Over the years as a journalist I have reported on the closure of at least half a dozen such shops. I recall one on London Road which shut its doors after the owner could find no one in the family, or anywhere else, to take on the business.
He and I toured the premises together, admiring a stack of pork pie moulds, and not a week goes by without my regretting I didn’t try and buy one off him.
Sharrowvale has had a mini-spate of closures in recent weeks. Otto’s, a lovely neighbourhood restaurant, is currently being gutted and refitted as a new Mediterranean-type eatery, and the materials shop Ish has also gone.
There is, of course, an obvious moral in all this: If you want local shops to survive then use them not idly click to order online. Those delivery vans gliding up in your street on a daily basis have already killed our city centre – what is Sheffield with John Lewis and Debenhams? They’re coming for the suburbs now.