Norwich’s movie man celebrates 25 years in business
Derek James pays tribute to Peter Cossey, owner of Norwich's Movie Shop who celebrates 25 years in business this month.
There was a time when people took them for granted, little shops bobbing along in the shadow of the big department stores.
Many disappeared over the years, unable to compete with the national outlets, while others offering something completely different survived.
Now, at long last, the little shops in the city are starting to get the recognition they deserve thanks to projects such as the Norwich Lanes.
While the noise from one small shop may only amount to a squeak, put them all together and it adds up to a mighty roar.
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The independent shops are the icing on the Norwich shopping cake and they deserve to be given the custom and support they need to survive and prosper in these difficult times.
Today I would like to pay tribute to one man who is celebrating 25 years in business this month. His name is Peter Cossey and he runs The Movie Shop in St Gregory's Alley.
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Now he is a real survivor.
'I'm a totally independent one-man band and I have kept trading purely on second-hand collectables bought and sold through the door,' said Peter.
'All over the country independent stores like mine are disappearing and I'm constantly told by visitors from this country and beyond that they have nothing like it where they come from,' he added.
So how did his shop come about?
'I was out of work in the mid-1980s, with many others, and decided to try to turn my passion for movies and collecting into a business,' said Peter.
'I was warned I would never make it, and would be gone in six months, but I went for it anyway, and with the help and encouragement of a dear friend Lesley Clark, now sadly gone, I set about turning the dream into reality,' he added.
Well, Peter sold his collection of rare rock 'n' roll records to raise some cash, put his own collection of film books and magazines on the shelves, along with stock he had accumulated while travelling the country doing movie fairs in his beat-up old VW van.
'The first few months were very difficult, but at the end of six months the shop had taken off, and apart from some inevitable quiet spells, has never really looked like stopping.
'I've now taken over all three floors in the shop and business has never been better, nor looked more promising,' said Peter.
He explained that the secret of doing well in this rather strange and quirky business is to share the passions and enthusiasms of the collectors, and ordinary members of the public, who walk into the shop.
'I believe that genuine collectors have the most interesting shops, but not necessarily the most profitable; we allow our enthusiam to lead us to buy something simply because it is rare, or unusual or beautiful, but then are reluctant to let it go,' said Peter.
He admits to having customers who have almost had to force him into selling something to them because he wanted to keep it.
Not a good business model.
'Despite that, I've not only survived, but thrived, at a time when independent shops everywhere are going out of business. People are astonished at the variety of stock I hold and the memories it evokes,' he added.
From the end of the Second World War and through the 1950s and 60s Norwich was filled with little collectors shops, and although they have been disappearing, Norwich is still one of the best places in the country for independent shops.
'Where other towns and cities with collectors' centres, like Brighton, promote their existence to attract visitors, Norwich has always been slow to recognise the importance of the independent shops that give character to our city,' said Peter.
And he went on…
'Luckily, over the last few years the idea of The Lanes as a district centre has really taken off, and I'm proud to be one of the longest established shops right in the heart of it.
'Even with the internet, which we all use, a real shop, with real people, will always have an important part to play in any community, and unlike some dealers who have given up to work exclusively online, I intend to be around for a while yet.'
Good for him.
It's thanks to people like Peter that Norwich is now recognised as one of the top centres in the UK for independent collectors' shops.
But don't my word for it, take a wander down St Gregory's Alley...and take a look for yourself.