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City of Stories: Norwich praised for its quirky independents

PUBLISHED: 15:37 15 September 2014 | UPDATED: 15:37 15 September 2014

Library picture of Alex Sergeant barista at Strangers cafe, Pottergate who came fifth in the UK latte art championships. Photo: Steve Adams

Library picture of Alex Sergeant barista at Strangers cafe, Pottergate who came fifth in the UK latte art championships. Photo: Steve Adams

Norwich prides itself on being a hub of originality, boasting an array of unique and quirky retailers, and when it comes to independent shops and businesses the city is unlike anywhere else in the UK.

Living the Story market tour event

A market has stood on the same spot in Norwich city centre since the Normans first traded there 900 years ago.

The iconic striped awnings of today’s marketplace are as integral to the city as the merchants’ stalls were then.

Now people are being invited to follow expert guide Rod Spokes to be led through the centuries of history where he will retell the tales of traders who have made their living in the fine city during that time.

• The event takes place this Wednesday, September 17, at 10.30am to noon.

• The start point is the Forum, on Millennium Plain, outside the Tourist Information Centre.

• Places are free but maximum numbers do apply so booking is essential.

• Book your place at www.facebook.com/norwichcityofstories.

From coffee bars to record stores, the streets are lined with hour’s worth of treats to delight the city’s many tourists and residents.

A spokesman for Visit Norwich explained why independents are so successful here.

“Here is a city where second-hand bookshops thrive, where vintage clothes shops have a cult following, and where record stores stay decidedly open,” they said.

“Norwich’s unique shops and businesses have made it one of the top 10 shopping destinations in the UK, yet their significance runs even deeper than that - they are evidence of that independent spirit, that ‘do different’ attitude that Norfolk is famous for.”

Tucked away on Pottergate is Strangers Coffee Bar, run by Alex Sergeant, which has been shortlisted for Cafe Life’s Independent Café or Coffee Bar of the Year,

Founded five years ago by Mr Sergeant, of City Road, and business partner Sam Maddocks, the pair said they were proud to be independent.

The 31-year-old added: “We could be just another coffee shop selling dark roasted coffee but we wanted to do something a bit different. We put a lot of effort in, out of love for what we do.

“It’s a really nice little community we’ve got here, people we work with are more than just customers to us - they’re friends.”

On the corner of London Street and Gaol Hill, is Jarrolds - one of the oldest independent department stores in the country. The store marks the edge of a network of historic streets boasting a riot of independent shops, eateries, pubs and bars, collectively known as the Lanes.

An independent shopper’s dream, so diverse and unique they have been nominated for a Great British High Street Award.

Vintage hunters in particular will drawn to the Lanes and music lovers will make a beeline for Soundclash Records on St Benedicts Street, an independent record store that’s been going strong for twenty years, and has been voted one of the top ten records stores in the country by the Guardian and the Observer.

But there are, of course, many more independents in Norwich - more than can fit into this article alone.

Each week a piece of original fiction has been submitted to the City of Stories campaign by a Norwich writer. This week’s story, titled Thomas Browne’s Skull, is by Hannah Garrard. Click here to read it.

• To discover more about Norwich’s independents, as well as some of the characters from Norwich’s history that embody the city’s independent spirit, follow the City of Stories on Facebook, use the hashtag #cityofstories on Twitter or visit www.cityofstories.co.uk.

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