Yesterday I made a visit to Uxbridge in West London, with my wife, and was heartbroken to see that one of the town’s oldest traders was to close for good in early February. Yet again, the current retail decline has claimed its latest victim.
A. Boville Wright, an artist supplies shop has traded in Uxbridge since 1904, and with the loss of another great local store, Randall’s, a few years back, makes it the town’s longest running shop. I recall going along to Randall’s in Vine Street for it’s last few months, and I wrote a few pieces about the department store in this blog Randalls RIP
What made Randall’s so wonderful, was the same for Boville Wright’s – it was the fact that they had been in the town for so long. In a way, Randall’s and Boville Wright’s were Uxbridge. They were reliable, they gave genuine customer service – not the concept of service dreamed up by a marketing hipster in a corporate office. Both companies were proper family-run concerns. The desire to serve customers was real, and hard-earned.
My first contact with Boville Wright’s was in 1986 as a schoolboy, needing art supplies to do my Art ‘O’ level resit at Bishop Ramsey CofE school, in Ruislip Manor. I then became very familiar with it when I went on to do my BTEC OND in Graphic Design at what was then Hounslow Borough College (now West Thames College). I bought loads of stuff there, or should I say my parents did in most cases. The biggest purchase was a Blundell Harling draughtsman’s table – a huge bit of kit, essential in the days before things when digital.
The point is that whatever field of art and design you were involved in , Boville Wright’s sold it, and if they didn’t have it , they would order it for you. They sold everything you wanted and stuff you didn’t know you needed, then realised you did!!
Going in the shop again , I was confronted by the wonderful smells of all the art materials, and I forgot how the shop meandered, going up stairs, around corners, each new section presenting more stuff.
So, why is it shutting? Well, I asked a lady serving , the kind of person you used to get in shops – experienced, well-mannered and eager to help. Turns out that the current member of the family running it is seventy-three years old and he wants to retire. Well, you would, and so he should at that age. But is there not a new member of the family who wants to run it? Well, yes, they do, but looking at the figures and projections, it appears that it is no longer viable in this day and age. A time when you can buy a tube of paint and an easel at 3am, and have it delivered to your studio. The internet has killed Boville Wrights. It is as simple as that . I would imagine that footfall is another factor, as well as business rates, insurance, staff costs, etc, etc.
Boville Wrights were so successful, that they had three stores, the Maidenhead branch closed down in 2018.
To say I am sad about the news is to put it mildly. I am heartbroken. A shop that had been part of my life, that had helped me ,and countless other artists and designers over one hundred years, is going to cease to exist. What will replace it? Well I would imagine it will be yet another restaurant or food ‘venue’. That is all that seems to thrive on our high streets these days. Either that or a betting shop, nail bar, beauty salon or pet grooming parlor.
So, I bet you’re thinking, “All very well eulogising about the past Mark, but did you buy anything?” – well as it happened I did, I bought six pots of Humbrol enamel paint, Two cans of spray paint, a paint brush, two paint pens, two architectural model cars (at 1/200 scale), and my wife bought a greetings card kit.
I hope to go back before the shop closes on February 8th, but I would imagine there will not be much left soon. Once the word goes out that this Uxbridge institution is closing, I would expect the shelves to be stripped.