A local’s guide to the thrills and spills of East Anglia’s most popular seaside resort
When it’s time to splash some cash...
Okay, Great Yarmouth High Street is not exactly Oxford Street - and Market Gates
ain’t quite Stratford Westfields. But if you can overlook the endless boarded up
shop fronts, the 43 million charity shops and the 53 million pound stores, then you
might as well spend a few hours browsing round the local shopping area. You’re here,
after all, so go fill your boots.
Sadly, 2020 sees a massive change to the Great Yarmouth shopping scene, with the
closing of Palmers Department Store. Once taking pride of place in the market square,
a position it had graced since 1837, Palmers Department Store was one of the oldest
independent stores in the country, until its recent takeover by the now defunct Beales.
A quick descent into administration followed, ending years of local history and a
unique shopping experience that will be sorely missed by locals and holiday-makers
alike. 2020 has also seen us wave goodbye to the Debenhams store in the Market Gates
Shopping Arcade, as the UK High Street takes more and more blows in the Internet
era of online shopping.
Much of the rest of the market area is pretty bog-standard UK High Street. Boots?
Tick! WH Smiths! Tick! Peacocks? Tick! River Island? Tick! All the stores you know
and love, but nothing that you won’t already have at home. And as for the market
itself, it consists mostly of chip stalls other than on Wednesdays and Saturdays
when a whole host of local traders set up stalls and add a splash of noise and colour
to the place.
One area in which Great Yarmouth does set itself apart on the shopping front is in
the plus-size clothing department. The abundant chip stalls and their generous portion
sizes have turned XXXL and XXXXL and SUPERXXXXL into standard-sizes - and so Bad
Rhino has just rocked up in town to cater for the well-dressed gentlemen porker,
while Yours and Evans keep the larger ladies looking absolutely ravishing in what
can only be described as floral-patterned tents. Meanwhile, rumour has it that a
new store is about to open for the plus-sized seagull.
But for a truly unique ‘Yarmouth only’ shopping experience, then head away from the
High Street and wander down Regent Road. This extraordinary thoroughfare that leads
down to the seafront is blessed with a multitude of independent shops and restaurants
- and it is here where you will find your holiday souvenirs, your stick of Great
Yarmouth Rock and your Kiss-Me-Quick hats, plus a bucket and spade for the kids to
take on the beach and whatever the latest craze is, too. Fidget spinners last year!
This year squidgies!
Sadly, a major fire in 2016 has left a gaping hole at the heart of this lively, cheap
and cheerful road. The blaze took away what was Great Britain’s oldest bowling alley,
as well as a dated but distinctive indoor market and a row of interesting shop fronts.
Another big loss is the recently closed Waxworks, which gained nationwide fame for
the utter crapness of its exhibits. Basically, if you were a celebrity and you looked
like your dummy, then you probably needed a doctor fast. It was a horror house of
half-melted corpses, but none the less enjoyable for that.
Some things still remain the same, though - seemingly unchanged since my childhood.
There is the famous local rock maker, Docwra’s, where you can not only stock up on
chocolates and sweets, but if you time it right, you can also see the rock makers
in action. And that means you get to see the secret of getting the words ‘Great Yarmouth’
to run down the centre of the rock. And these people have been doing it for years
and years and so they make it look so easy, but it’s still a truly showstopping moment
when they do the reveal.
Just across from the rock shop is Martyn’s Walk Round Store, another favourite from
my childhood. Back in the day when I couldn’t go home without buying something -anything - then the Martyn’s mix of classic seaside tot - think jokes and magic tricks,
fancy dress items, ornaments, mugs and costume jewellery - was often the place that
got the benefit of my 50p pocket money. Or further along towards the beach, there’s
the souvenir-filled shelves of Vogue and Barker’s, their lay-outs seemingly unchanged
since the 1970s. And much of the stock seems from that era, too! Especially the postcards!
New shops have sprung up in recent years, though, and Regent Road is now the perfect
place to buy a mobile phone cover, flip flops, beach wear and, another Yarmouth essential,
your holiday tattoo. But it’s the older stores that give the road its true character,
along with the always busy cafes and restaurants - and you really can’t come to Yarmouth
without buying some holiday tat from Regent Road. If only so you can then take it
home and think: ‘What on earth did I buy a Great Yarmouth tea towel for?’ Oh, just
give it as a gift to someone you hate...
THE LEGENDARY SHOPPING EXPERIENCE THAT IS REGENT ROAD, GREAT YARMOUTH