Julie Cattanach is the current proprietor of a Prudhoe shop that people have been going to for over half a century.

Alan Sawyers, BNNE contributor, finally went into the shop he’s been driving past almost every day for over two years.

There’s a little shop that really is a ‘top shop’ to our own Nathan and Josh Cockburn, as it’s literally at the top of their street.

Actually, it’s at the top of the street and around the corner a little on South Road. That shop is Julie’s Top Shop and I pass it every time I drop one of the lads off after work.

In a society where supermarkets sell almost everything, and everything else you can get from Amazon tomorrow, there’s increasingly little room for these little shops. Owner Julie Cattanach, who was named Trader of the Week by the Hexham Courant in January 2021, bought the shop nine years ago.

Josh, who is a regular at his local shop, and I popped in to chat to Julie.

As we stood talking to Julie at her counter, the place was filled with students from the local schools. We asked her if they were her main clientele. She said: “There’s a big mix of customers actually from school kids to their parents and grandparents.

“Early mornings tend to be busy with school kids but then around 10-11am with workmen and sixth formers. After that we’re busy again about now, 3-5pm.”

Josh and Nathan have never known a time when their top shop didn’t exist. In fact for most of the locals – including Julie herself – it’s been a constant for a lifetime.

“The shop itself has been here for over 60 years and was previously owned by the Kennedys.” Julie told us. “It was purpose built and has always been a shop. My parents lived at Prudhoe Hall and I used to come here as a young girl.

“I worked in Brockbushes for 13 years and around nine years ago I noticed this shop was up for sale, so I thought ‘why not?’ and bought it.”

As we continue to talk, I mention that a lot of businesses we’ve spoken to have been open about their struggles. Julie said: “Trying to survive and stay open is our challenge at the minute. It’s often quiet in January but the year to date has been the hardest time, we’re really struggling. Our suppliers are telling us we’re not the only ones saying it.

“Prices for everything have gone up for everyone in their homes, and that’s the case in businesses too. But what people don’t see are the costs behind the counter, like the interest rates on our mortgage have gone up to the point it’s costing an extra £400 a month which is potentially crippling.

“Another hidden problem for shops like ours is the cost of running it. We’ll be able to put the Slushie machine back on soon and sell ice cream again. So as much as some people will want certain things all year round it’s not cost effective for us to keep the machine and the freezer running when not enough people are buying.

“We also no longer sell papers because of the delivery charges we incurred to get them to us. People read news on their phones and tablets, there’s not enough people buying the printed newspapers to warrant us selling them.”

I tell Julie the first time I’d bought a newspaper in years was a few weeks ago because we were in it, but I wondered what actually does sell well. She said: “Regulars come in for essentials like milk and bread and, after a mess up with the licence we can sell alcohol again now. We also sell other groceries, confectionery, sweets and soft drinks. But our biggest draw is our own homemade food.”

The chalkboard behind the counter offers bacon sandwiches, breakfast buns, toasties, chips and more. And with a counter top laden with cakes, you have to admit there aren’t many corner shops doing this.

“Myself and Rachel do the cooking and we have occasional front-of-shop help from my sister Elaine too.”

I finished by asking Julie if she has any plans for the longer term future of the shop. She said: “I’d love to use the patch of land outside and get a seating area fitted out, if we could raise the funding and find the time”.

Josh, who is about to finish sixth form and had been quiet up to that point, approved this idea. He said: “That would be really good actually for the sixth formers because we’re always sitting on the wall outside.”

I like to think that little moment of encouragement from the concept’s target audience helped a bit.