There are quite a few shops in Portsmouth that have been going for many years. But one of the ones that has been open for the longest is about to shut, Bower’s cobblers and leather goods shop in Kingston Road is closing because of owner Dennis Bower and his wife Jean retiring.
They opened the shop in 1957 and have been trading continuously for the past 54 years. Dennis learned his trade from his father, who had a shop in Old Fawcett Road.
After National Service, Dennis worked for the Co-op for a while, where he was paid £7 10 shillings per week.
If he did £35 worth of trade, he received a bonus of one shilling (5p) in the pound.
He was such a fast worker that he began his bonus on a Wednesday and would sometimes increase his wages by up to £10 per week.
In early 1957 Dennis noticed an empty shop in Kingston Road which had at one time been the Home & Colonial store.
It had been vacant for two years and Dennis managed to get the lease on the shop only for £4 per week.
One must consider that in those far-off days there were many shoe repairers around and Dennis tells me that there were at least half-a-dozen other cobblers within walking distance of his newly-opened shop.
Before cheap imported shoes, footwear was of such good quality that people always had it repaired.
Everything was made of leather and a cobbler who did quality work was assured of much business. Dennis then began to branch out into leather and sundry goods such as briefcases, handbags and wallets.
Whereas his late father had an army contract for repairing boots, Dennis managed to obtain the contract for repairing firemen’s boots.
I asked Dennis about his customers and he said: ‘Many come in and say they can remember entering the shop as a child with their parents and grandparents.’
In the past Dennis used to sell leather footballs with a bladder and lace.
He had to blow the balls up in the shop – one job he doesn’t miss. He also repaired old-fashioned football boots with the hard toecap and leather studs.
Whereas other cobblers closed down, Dennis bought the shop and moved in to the flat above. He has lived over the shop for nearly all his married life.
Now aged 79, Dennis has decided to retire at the end of this month and everything in the shop is reduced in price. So do pay him a visit, save some money and say goodbye.
In retirement Dennis hopes to play a lot more golf – and after working for 64 years he deserves it.