Celebrating a true institution

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This week we celebrate a business that has become a Portsmouth institution.

And in a strange quirk of fate, it trades in the same road as last week’s historic business.

There is no need to go searching for flags, ribbons, whoopee cushions or other fun paraphernalia as this is the party shop U-NEED-US in Arundel Street, Landport, Portsmouth.

And this year marks its 90th anniversary.

The business was started back in 1923 by William George Searle at 108, Arundel Street, a man who began life as a printer. He was the younger son of Alfred Searle, who had a printer’s business at 58, Arundel Street.

The business closed and William started a business that would eventually send party goods all over Great Britain.

Many of the items were hand-made on the premises, including party hats, rosettes, streamers and balloons. Fancy dress outfits were made locally to order.

The trade blossomed and after a few years moved further towards Commercial Road to numbers 70-72. Oddly the two premises kept their original doorways so there were two entrances into the shop.

In 1960, with the updating of Portsmouth the two shops were demolished for road widening and the business moved to number 30 where it has been ever since.

It is on the site of the former Rialto cinema, so it has always been a location for bringing happiness to people.

The shop was originally called UNEEDUS, but during the war someone said it sounded like a foreign national and so two hyphens were inserted and it has been the famous U-NEED-US ever since.

William was a royalist and there was never a time when the Union Flag or the Queen’s photograph were not in the window along with one of the Duke of Edinburgh.

A son-in-law took over in 1960 and the grandson of the original owner, Ted Marshall, has been the owner for the past 15 years.

The trade went national when catalogues were sent out by the thousand all over the country to clubs, school, theatres and production companies.

Such trade was generated that a new catalogue was produced every year. It was also printed on pink paper and some of the customers have been coming back year after year for decades.

It works both ways as the business has also been dealing with a wholesaler, Gibson Games, since the mid-1920s.

I asked the granddaughter of the original owner, Sandra Haggan, who has been in the shop for nearly 30 years, how trade has changed.

‘To be honest, it hasn’t altered a lot. We have a rush on some things for a few years and then something else comes along, but in general trade everything remains the same,’ she says.

‘What do modern people go for ?’ I ask.

‘Believe it or not, jigsaw puzzles have made a great comeback in recent years. We sell dozens of them.’

And the internet?

‘Oh no, we have never gone there as we prefer personal service and talking to people.’

The shop really is an Aladdin’s cave of fun and enjoyment, selling every type of hat possible, children’s birthday items by the score, beautiful wigs and party theme ideas from Hawaiian to pirates. There are official badges and fund-raising items and all types of games.

Indoor fireworks, grass skirts, Christmas essentials, the list is endless. It’s worth just popping your head inside the door to have a look. I guarantee you will buy something.

Sandra told me when they moved to the shop all the stock had to be moved.

As it was just down the road all the employees press ganged their husbands and boyfriends into helping. They made a long line between the shops and everything was passed hand to hand along Arundel Street.

It must have been a sight. They were all taken to the Black Cat Cafe in Commercial Road above Beaumont’s for a thank-you lunch.

So yet another business continues to flourish, proving that personal service cannot be beaten.