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‘We’ve got a lot of happy memories’: End of an era as Peterhead shop changes hands after 67 years in the family

Mum and daughter Aileen and Lara Anderson have stood side by side throughout the decades at R&I Neish
Mum and daughter Aileen and Lara Anderson have stood side by side throughout the decades at R&I Neish

It was just as wartime rationing ended in 1954 that Robert Neish spotted a business opportunity.

The electrician at the Crosse and Blackwell food factory in Peterhead was something of an entrepreneur, and thought a grocery shop in the developing Clerkhill area could be a money-spinner.

Now 67 years on, having undergone numerous expansions and serving generations of locals, R&I Neish remains in his family.

But that will all change next week when, with some tears expected, Robert’s granddaughter Lara Anderson hands over the keys.

From next Monday, Ellon businessman Harris Aslam will become the first person from outside the close-knit clan to run it.

‘It became an institution’

When Robert and wife Isobel took on the shop on October 10, 1954, it was a small building surrounded by fields and a handful of post-war prefabs.

Then three-year-old daughter Aileen spent much of her childhood in a room at the back.

Two decades later, she would take it over alongside husband James Anderson.

For the past 20 years, it has been in the hands of their daughter Lara.

Shoppers stocking up for the festive period many years ago.

Aileen and Lara shared their memories of the store’s glory days with us ahead of passing over the reins.

“It was quite a modest corner shop when it opened, we didn’t realise it would become this institution”, Aileen said.

“Dad thought he would give it a go and it just took off.”

What else was happening when the shop opened? 

In the 1960s and 1970s the shop thrived as more and more houses sprung up in the south of the Blue Toon.

It was the only supermarket in Peterhead and customers would visit from all over the north-east – especially to stock their larder for Christmas.

Aileen said: “It was the place to go for decades.

“People would travel from the country and all around about for their Christmas supplies.

“The shop went from being a small window on the corner to having more and more space as things improved.”

These snaps show how the shop looked in the 1990s and when it first opened

‘There was always a buzz…’

In the late 1970s Aileen and her husband James, who had a doctorate in geology from Aberdeen University, took over for a “trial run”.

The shop is in Aileen’s blood, and managing it came as naturally as you would expect.

She ended up running it for decades – and has still been popping in to help out Lara in recent years.

The pensioner, who lives in Ellon, said: “People back then did their shopping on a daily basis – it was always mince and tatties or meat and two veg for dinner.

“Clerkhill grew around us, the council houses started popping up.

“As more houses were built over the fields, we moved in behind the shop.

“There was always a buzz about the place, it was good fun with the staff and the customers.”

A lot has changed since this pre-decimalisation order sheet for the shop’s alcohol aisle.

In the late 1970s the family joined the Nisa group as a way to retain their independent status amid an evolving retail environment.

Aileen added: “The big multiples started coming in and that fairly spoiled things, it really changed the marketplace…”

‘I loved being at the shop’

Growing up in R&I Neish meant Lara had some unusual childhood experiences.

She spent her fifth birthday at a Nisa conference in Torquay – sitting at the same table as the actual Mr Kipling.

By the time she was eight, Lara was bagging oranges in the back room and she got her first pay packet at 11.

For her presentation at school around that time, she brought in a pricing gun.

A simpler time… When cigarette packets were on display on the shelves of R&I Neish

Looking back over old photographs, Lara said: “I loved it, I loved being at the shop and working with the people there.”

Her dad became a Liberal Democrat councillor representing Ellon around the turn of the millennium, leaving Lara in charge of the shop in her 20s.

Aileen added: “James wanted to improve things in the community, he was involved with education and infrastructure and really enjoyed that.”

Changed days…

But trading conditions had “significantly changed” by the time Lara took over.

R&I Neish was far from the only game in town, and was no longer the hub it once was.

For an army of loyal customers though, the grocery shop continued the same role it had in their lives for decades.

Lara said: “A lot of folk have been coming in since day one, they still come in and say ‘I knew your granddad Bob’.

“But so much has changed in that time, technology has affected everything and the world is a different place.”

When James died aged 68 in November 2017 it was a sad day for the entire community.

Aileen and Lara outside the shop showing off the old order sheet they found while clearing the office. Picture by Scott Baxter.

How shop helped locals through lockdown

R&I Neish stayed open through the harshest periods of Covid restrictions.

As well as making sure elderly locals got their deliveries, they helped meet demand as a home baking craze swept the turmoil-strewn nation.

Lara said: “It was pretty harsh the first few months.

“It was hard work staying open but we had to, we knew we were lucky we could keep going.

“We were making up orders for folk that were isolating, and doing our best to get flour when it all disappeared.

“We had to order in these huge catering sacks of it, and make them up into individual bags.

“I’d never seen the demand for flour and condensed milk that we had those first few months!”

Time to say goodbye

The shop is being taken over by Eros Retail, who also operate Greens of Ellon, and will be known as Greens of Peterhead.

All jobs will be retained – with some employees continuing in roles they have had for as long as 40 years.

Packing their bags… Lara and Aileen will hand over the shop on Monday. Picture by Scott Baxter

Next Monday will be the first day Lara wakes up without the store in her life.

She said: “We were approached about selling, and we don’t have another generation of the family to pass the shop to.

“I believe the shop will be in safe hands… But still, if I start thinking too much about it, I’ll start crying.”

Lara plans to dedicate more time to her charity work, where she makes up care packages for patients at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, and to Ellon Rotary Club.

Aileen added: “We have got a good store, it’s a bonnie shop and I’m proud of it.

“It’s the end of an era right enough.”

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This article originally appeared on the Evening Express website. For more information, read about our new combined website.