A cut above the rest

Family-run hardware shop closes after seven decades, writes James Cracknell

If you live near Wood Street in Walthamstow and have a penchant for DIY, chances are you’ve been to Colvins.

The family-run ironmongers and hardware shop has been a mainstay of the area’s retail scene since the late 1940s, offering a personalised service that the big chains could never match. Timber and wood could by cut to order, paint could be mixed, and all manner of tools and bits and bobs could be found on demand. Selling locks, hinges, screws, nails, hooks, varnish, brushes, mouldings and more, Colvins had it all.

Susan Aley standing in the doorway of Colvins in the early 1980s
Susan Aley standing in the doorway of Colvins in the early 1980s

Sadly, this stalwart of Walthamstow is no more. At the end of January, owners Peter and Susan Aley shut up shop for the last time.

“It would have been 70 years in June,” Susan told the Echo. “We’re closing down because we haven’t had the trade over the last year. We are down on our takings and the footfall is down – most people come here in a vehicle and there is nowhere to park – it was the final nail in the coffin.”

Peter was born above the shop, shortly before it was opened by William Colvin in 1949. He and his mother later started working there in the 1960s. Susan moved in with Peter – who was still living above the shop – after the pair got married in 1973. The Aley family then bought Colvins after William moved to Australia and decided to sell up in 1982, but they decided to keep the shop’s name.

“There have been dads who shop here with their children, and then when they’ve grown up they’ve come in with their children,” said Susan.

“We are a small business, everything is loose, so people spend half-an-hour picking up a few screws. It is lovely, but we only take 50p off them! Most of our customers we’re on first name terms with.”

How has Colvins survived this long, when so many people now shop at the large DIY stores?

“Homebase opened in 1986 on the corner with Wood Street and obviously it had an impact, but we managed to keep going because we have got good service here, we do wood cutting and things like that.

“It’s the parking that’s done us. There used to be three car parks behind the shops but now there’s just one and it’s full with the people working at the medical centre. They did away with the parking in side streets, you need a permit now. The council should be ashamed – they’ve ruined Wood Street.”

As well as Peter and Susan, loyal Colvins customers will also know Stephen Knowles and Joanne Berry, Susan’s brother and niece respectively, who have also worked there for many years and have always offered a friendly service.

So how has everyone reacted to the news that the shop is finally closing? “We are devastated,” said Susan. “I have had people walking out of here in tears. We are amazed at the response. It is overwhelming.”

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