“I am always getting asked for fork handles,” says Simon Larcombe, grinning.
Larcombe’s of Beaminster is 20 years old this month, and it’s the type of shop that really does make you feel you’ve stepped into that scene from The Two Ronnies.
Everything is here. Around 36,000 items, to be almost exact. And if it’s here, Simon, 41, who stocktakes with paper and pen, will know about it – you only have to ask and the information filed away somewhere in his cortexes will offer up the answer.
The hard-wearing hardware shop owner works a gruelling six days a week with no staff to give him a break.
The shop door is constantly tinkling as customers pop in and out for their DIY, building and gardening items, or to get a key cut (Simon cuts four keys in the half an hour I’m there – it’s evidently a popular service).
Simon launched the shop with his dad Colin in November 2002, after getting frustrated at having to drive to Bridport every time they needed so much as a tube of silicone for a house renovation.
Colin had run a busy builder’s merchants in Lyme Regis (Larcombe’s Building Supplies, now Travis Perkins in Uplyme Road), while bringing Simon up in Uplyme. By 2002 he had officially ‘retired’, but opening a hardware shop in Beaminster seemed like a good idea as there was nowhere else within miles to lay your hands on a bag of nails and some wood glue.
They opened the shop just off the square with an Aladdin’s cave of stuff for the home and garden. A couple of years later they added key cutting to their services. Aside from some new stock every so often, Larcombe’s has remained unchanged ever since. And people love it that way.
Colin, a well-known face in both towns and the brother of last year’s Lyme Regis Mayor Brian, died earlier this year, aged 69. But Simon, who lives above the shop with his partner and two sons, aged two and four, is carrying on the family business in his stead, changing nothing too radically – well, if it ain’t broke…
Simon’s sons adore the shop: “They love trashing the place!” he says.
It’s the type of shop everyone wants nearby, teeming with so many useful items.
Simon also offers a paint-mixing service. And there are bits and bobs in here you might not expect, such as a lovely range of pottery and a large range of bakeware.
He said: “The best thing about this job is meeting people. We have a really loyal set of customers here, who have kept us going through the lockdowns and when the tunnel was closed.”
The shop has about 50 account holders, who receive hand-written invoices each month. Other customers pop in and out, in search of anything from a paintbrush to wood screws.
The prices are competitive, too.
“You can buy all this online of course,” said Simon.
“But many people still prefer to come here and get what they need. We’re always busy.”
Today Larcombe’s is one of a handful of Beaminster businesses to be in the same hands for over two decades. It survived during the first lockdown by taking phone orders and delivering to people’s homes, and in the second Simon opened a hatch in the door to serve his customers without them having to go into the shop.
Thankfully all that’s behind us now, and we can go and breathe in that very specific and evocative scent belonging to traditional hardware shops everywhere.
“What IS that smell, do you know?” I ask.
“I’ve no idea,” said Simon. “But people are always remarking on it.
“Every old hardware shop has that smell. People love it.”
n Larcombe’s is open from 8.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday and 8.30am to 1pm on Saturdays, at 2 Hogshill St, Beaminster DT8 3AE. 01308 862789