Left to right, MD Jonathan Starling, chairman David Starling and finance director Barry Starling at Starlings at Sheringham. 

Photo gallery and poll: What’s your favourite ever toy? Sheringham shop celebrates 100 years on the high street

Thursday, November 15, 2012
8.46 AM

The world seems to change at breakneck speed. But in 100 years, one thing has remained the same - children love to play with toys.

The world seems to change at breakneck speed. But in 100 years, one thing has remained the same - children love to play with toys.

And one stalwart Norfolk shop is raising a glass to that fact as it celebrates a century of trading.

Since being set up at Sheringham before the first world war, Starlings has stood firm in the same location, selling newspapers, hardware, sweets, cards, gifts - and watching fads for toys come and go, and come again.

It has passed down through four generations of the Starling family, and now has sister stores at Holt, Dereham and Bury St Edmunds.

And it is set to continue the independents’ fight against chain stores into the coming years.

The current Starlings chairman is David Starling. His brother Barry is financial director, while his son Jonathan is managing director and his other son Paul also works with the business.

The first shop, on Sheringham High Street, was set up by David’s grandfather Walter as W Starling Bazaar, selling newspapers, hardware, tobacco, stationary and some toys. It also had Kandy Korner sweet shop attached to it.

Walter’s son Walter David Starling joined the business aged 16 in 1920, by which time a former first world war office building had been bought, attached to the back of the shop and re-christened the lecture hall - hosting plays, sales and all manner of community events.

David Starling started his retail career at Jarrold in Norwich, and in 1956 joined Starlings, buzzing with ideas to grow the business.

He said: “My father never really had holidays. The first thing I did was encourage him to take holidays, and when he did I used to get rid of things and change things. There used to be quite a rumpus.

“The business took £90 a week then, and my father used to come home and count the money on the floor.

“The lecture hall was pulled down and we had an extension built. We got rid of the hardware gradually and developed fancy holiday goods for visitors to the town.”

Mr Starling said the expansion of the range of toys happened when a representative visited from a German toy firm. He said: “He had 12 suitcases of products, and I bought lots of them, including Tri-ang toys and Rovex railway sets.”

In 1972/3 the front of the shop was rebuilt, while Starlings expanded its newspaper delivery business by buying up the trade from WH Smith and Watts.

A Holt store was added in 1986, with others to follow at Dereham in 2004 and at Bury St Edmunds in 2005.

Another milestone came in 1996, when the Sheringham post office counter was moved into the back of the shop, which was expanded once more.

Methodist lay preacher Mr Starling said one of the secrets of maintaining a business for so long was to be “part of the community”, while it was also essential to “know your customers and serve them well”.

He recalled that in 1956 the top toys were a Whip ‘n Top and pea shooters.

He said: “We sold hundreds of pea shooters, and the town shops sold out of peas. You would be walking down the street and suddenly feel a pea hit you on the back of the head.”

Mr Starling said Lego was “by far the most enduring toy of all time”, and was still popular today, while he added: “Children still love toys. It’s just that the age range is more limited now, as they get into computers and mobile phones.”

He said Starlings would continue to face the challenges of competition, including the looming arrival of Tesco at Sheringham, and said: “It’s a wonderful shop, with great staff and lovely customers.”