End of an era for Clowns

Claire Redmayne is continuing her career as a dance teacher
Claire Redmayne is continuing her career as a dance teacher
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A popular family run business which has been a flagship store on Garstang’s Bridge Street is to close by the end of the month.

“Clowns” has been a favourite haunt of local youngsters since it was opened on August 21, 1992 by Mrs Margaret Whiteside.

Now family trio Claire Redmayne, brother David Whiteside and dad Raymond Whiteside are preparing to pull down the shutters for the last time.

Intiially the dance and toy store was on the first floor above the family dry cleaning and laundry business. As well as children’s dance wear and toys, there was the bonus of a play area and holiday craft workshops.

Following her mother’s death in 2002, the then 17-year-old Claire Whiteside took over the dance and toy store, combining shop duties with training to be a dance teacher.

Meanwhile dad, builder Raymond, continued the dry cleaning side of the business.

But after the owner of the building at 4, Bridge Street died and the lease came up for renewal last year the family decided it was time to call it a day.

The building is now up for sale.

Claire explained that her mother set up the dance supplies business when Claire started dance classes and her mother discovered there were no local suppliers of ballet shoes, leotards and the like.

Claire recalls: “Mum opened it 21 years ago when I was seven and David was three...I was a dancer and she couldn’t get dancewear locally. She worked it round us going to school.

“We used to come in when were were old enough to walk from school and we’d go up to the attic room which was our playroom and we did our homework up there.”

There were other bonuses to having a family toy shop: “We used to do all the samples for the shop - the sequin art and scraper foils and David was always into his K’nex. He used to build things like the Big Wheel.”

A Big Wheel was a feature in the shop’s side window for many years. From the shop side of the counter she says L ego and Orchard jigsaws and toys have proved enduringly popular and when Furbies were first out they were a big hit locally.

A business profile in the Courier some months after the shop first opened carried the headline “Clowns-ing around with dance designs” and the store’s advert promised “Lovely gifts for dancers of all ages.”

Later, after Claire’s grandma Gladys Leach retired, her parents moved the toy shop downstairs. Dancing was to become a long term passion for Claire who teaches ballet. modern and tap and gained her teaching qualifications at Preston College. The upstairs at Clowns became an emporium of fancy dress available for hire and purchase - what’s left is being sold off at a discount.

Claire will now carry on selling dancewear on line at www.clownsgarstang.co.uk She will also continue her work as a dancing teacher at the Garstang School of Dance, where she herself was once a pupil: “I teach for Miss Pam, the owner. She taught me and now I work for her.”

Claire also hopes to set up some local dancing clubs. She married husband Richard in November at Forton United Reformed Church and said of the changes ahead: “I’m looking forward to it now....and with me getting married in 2013 it’s quite a nice new start. I don’t think mum ever wanted me to take on the family business. I was 17 when I took it over, so I’ve given it a good run!””

Meanwhile brother David is studying for accountancy exams and will be looking for a new job this year.

As for her dad, Claire is hoping he’ll rekindle his building skills and point her garage .... and that’s just for starters. They’ll all take with them many memories of their Bridge Street days.

Claire said: “We’d like to thank all our customers...I bet they’ve all got their own memories of coming in as kids A lot of my friends have children now and they used to come in as children.“