Mr Humbug and Mr Simms
It wasn’t so very long ago that we didn’t have an old fashioned sweetie shop at all in Greenwich. I remember fantasising on this blog about having a proper place that weighed out your rhubarb and custards or your gobstoppers from big glass jars into little stripy paper bags. My dream-store was actually the teeny little store halfway up Steep Hill in Lincoln – all dark and cosy, decorated with love – and the kind of sweet tins that cram Robert Opie’s museum . Playing jolly songs from the 1940s, it remains the only place that I’ve ever been able to buy summer creams.
So I was delighted when Mr Humbug arrived in Greenwich Market. It wasn’t quite my fantasy embodied but hey – it was close enough. I have spent far more than my waistline would like in that shop and it’s always jam-packed full of people at the weekends.
But, as we are always being told, we should be careful about what we ask for, and my magic-wish fairy is clearly actually the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. I guess it was back in the summer that a second old fashioned sweetie shop emerged, this time on Church Street and the battle for Greenwich’s sweet tooth began.
They are both franchises – though Mr Humbug is by far the smaller of the two – there’s just the one other store, in Norfolk, though they’re actively seeking new franchisees. Mr Simms is now getting to be on pretty much every high street in Britain – hell – there’s even one in Bluewater these days – and despite the cod ‘old fashionedness’ of the place, it is the one that feels most ‘corporate’ – there’s a certain plasticness to the whole place from the fake leaded lights to the dark cubicles containing the sweet jars. Curiously, when I was looking for a website for the place, I couldn’t find any address for the parent company or any actual numbers of stores, though there must be dozens of ‘em.
Both sell almost identical goods at pretty much identical prices. They both have minimum purchase weights – which I riled at at first, but then I do vaguely recall a minimum weight back in my primary school days – which wouldn’t have been an issue except that being a kid I wanted to have as many different sweeties as I could and minimum weights made me choose (that’s just one of the reasons I still mourn the passing of Woolworths.) But the minimum weight thing is differently couched in each shop. Mr Humbug only tells us there’s a minimum if we threaten to go under it, whereas it’s the first thing they tell you in Mr Simms, which immediately puts my back up. The days are gone where I go in with 2p and I’m not leaving until I’ve spent it all – I AM almost certainly going to buy more than 100g of something – I don’t want my greeting to consist of being told I have to spend a certain amount.
But then neither of these shops are actually aiming at children. They know that most kids these days would rather have a nice safe packet of something. Both of these stores are appealing to the child in adults and Phantoms, and play on received memories, however real they actually might be.
To be honest, I think that there’s probably room for both stores. They both enjoy prime locations - one in the market, the other catching tourists as they come out of the DLR. I’ve tried ‘em both (several times – research, obviously…) and apart from the fact that I find Mr Humbug a bit friendlier (the girl in there chats to me as though I’m an old friend, despite the fact that I’m not) and with better bags (pink and stripy, and thick enough not to disintegrate, even if you buy a lot – Mr Simms’s bags are brown, small and thin – I discovered about 150g-worth of licorice torpedos rolling around in the bottom of my shopping and an empty, torn paper bag last time I went there) there really isn’t that much to choose between the actual goods and prices.
In fact thinking about it I reckon we could have even more sweet shops. Bring ‘em on – I promise to try ‘em all.
the attachments to this post: