Latest update: General update.
There's a good selection of shops in Caversham - many of which are not part the normal, dull, run-of-the-mill, find 'em in any high street, chains. And that can only be described as a good thing!
It's worth noting that a study by the New Economics Foundation (September 2010) named Reading as the second most ‘cloned’ town in the country in terms of becoming increasingly dominated by large chain stores at the expense of independents. Reading scored just 15.5 out of 100 on the diversity scale. This, of course, very much applies to the urban sprawl south of the river, and does not apply to the many excellent independent retailers that operate within Caversham.
What follows below is just a purely personal selection - based totally on personal good experiences. It's not to say that shops we don't mention are in any way 'bad' - it's just that we haven't any personal experience to pass one. Similarly, we also have to say that just because we've had good experiences of these places, these recommendations can't in any way be considered a guarantee that you will. However, that said, at least this will give you a start-point to help you make up your own mind.
Wordplay on Prospect Street sells books and 'traditional, quality toys' - not the sort you'll find in big chain stores.
Over in the precinct (St Martin's Precinct, to give it its proper name) House of Cards is always a good bet for a wide variety of greetings cards - from ones suitable for your Granny to ones that are perhaps less so... depending on your Granny of course. Mind you, it can be slightly embarrassing to find yourself chuckling out loud as you browse.
And also in the precinct, Cara Shoes is notable for having what seems to be a really unique range of ladies shoes. You can traipse around the shoe shops in town all day and find much of a muchness between them all; when you go into Cara you never really know what you'll find - and that's great.
And finally in the Precinct, Terry's is always fun - one of those places you can get just about anything. Well, nearly anything..!
To our own surprise, we also find ourselves singing the praises of Waitrose. We know, we know - it's not a local shop and so on and so forth, and like all big stores there are some controversies dogging it - expansion in Henley, for example. But we have been very positively struck by its 'Community Matters' initiative, whereby it's donating over £2 Million to 6,840 local charities up and down the country, as chosen by staff and customers. Charities in Caversham already have received a helping hand, and will continue to do so.
We know that this kind of low-level charity support can make or break local initiatives and we think what Waitrose is doing is great - and a lot more than some other supermarkets are doing.
Unfortunately, Caversham doesn't have its own farmers' market and it's probably not big enough to sustain one. However, that's no excuse for not supporting local farmers who're trying to break the supermarket stranglehold and sell direct: there are plenty of farmers' markets within a short drive. The Berks, Bucks and Milton Keynes and Oxon food group website is a good resource if you're interested, with both dates and venues for farmers' markets and details about other food-related events etc. Alternatively, the Certified Farmers' Markets website has a useful 'search-by-county' facility. (And, as you might imagine, only lists certified markets.)
While there might not be a Caversham farmers' market, in the same general trend there's a True Food Co-operative open at 61 Grove Road, Emmer Green, offering organic fruit and veg, bread, wholefoods and the like - and what's more it's a not-for profit community charity. Anyone can shop there - so you'd be smart to give it a try.
Turning to butchery, a good butcher can make a heck of a difference. You can get good advice about the right cuts of meat and in our experience the meat is always better - tastier, leaner etc - than anything we've ever bought in any supermarket. Jennings are a local company in St Martin's precinct and they have a good reputation that, in our opinion, is well deserved.
Local firm Koltrane Lighting, now on the Portman Road, knocks any of the DIY Superstores into a cocked hat (see also the 'hardware' entry below) for help, advice and the sheer range of all things lighting - and great prices too. Going into a shop like this makes you realise just how limited the so-called superstores actually are. (OK, it's not really Caversham anymore but they used to be on the Caversham Road ... )
For hardware shops, Caversham and Emmer Green is truly blessed. Up the Caversham Road there's Drews, which should be an essential stop for anyone doing anything DIY. Drews is, quite simply, superb. As far as we're concerned you can forget all those lousy, over-priced 'DIY Superstores' which are more-or-less hell on Earth anyway. Drews has what you need, well priced, often not in some jumbo bag but sold in the quantities you want, and all backed up with more expertise than you can shake a stick at. The team can speak from experience and say Drews is not an intimidating male-only or experts-only environment - in fact they're very helpful to novices, male or female. And they're a local family firm too.
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