The Prairie Schooner: New Bar on Flixton Rd, Urmston

Delicious mulled cider from the Prairie Schooner, Urmston.

Delicious mulled cider from the Prairie Schooner, Urmston.

Newly opened on Flixton Road, Urmston, the Prairie Schooner is an independent micropub (what a very fine word that is!) and bottle shop.  And what is a “prairie schooner”?  It’s the name given to a covered wagon used by 19th century migrants settlers across America.  Yes, the kind you’d see on Little House on the Prairie.  The name is purely metaphorical, and relates to the pioneering spirit behind the venture; it’s not a theme bar.

Situated opposite Darby’s Coffee and Arts Lounge, the bar is warmly lit and cosy, yet far bigger than it looks from outside.  It has a three-sided bar and plenty of seating, with has a relaxed, comfortable ambience.  This is a space that can equally accommodate genial gatherings of friends, intimate rendez-vous for two or solo cogitations at one of the window seats, where you can watch the comings and goings of Flixton Road.

I’m more or less teetotal but the mulled cider smelled so festive I couldn’t resist giving it a try.  It was deliciously spiced and wonderfully warming on a winter’s day.  My husband and I reflected that we could easily spend hours in there and we shall certainly return.

Watch the comings and goings on Flixton Road from the window of the Prairie Schooner Taphouse.

Watch the comings and goings on Flixton Road from the window of the Prairie Schooner Taphouse.

I shy away from listing pubs and bars on here because it’s often unclear whether they are independent or not (many are linked to breweries in a kind of franchise-like agreement), but the Prairie Schooner Taphouse is clearly an indie operation.  The Prairie Schooner Taphouse specialises in real ale from local microbreweries poured by the pint straight from the cask. They also stock a selection of traditional cider and perry, fine wine, prosecco, single malt whisky, small-batch gin and old-fashioned soft drinks all made by independent producers.

The Prairie Schooner Taphouse is at 33 Flixton Road, Urmston.  Children are allowed on the premises till 6pm and dogs are allowed at quiet times.  Visit Prairie Schooner Taphouse’s website for details of their opening hours.


World Book Day 2014: Why We Need Independent Bookshops

World Book Day at Urmston Bookshop

World Book Day 2014 falls this coming Thursday, 6th March and, in celebration of this special day, every school-aged child will receive a token for a free book.  Here are five reasons why you should use your token at Urmston Bookshop on Flixton Road.

1.  Independent bookshops champion reading.  Peter and Frances Hopkins of Urmston Bookshop bring beautiful books and stories into the community with school visits and many events both in the shop and at Urmston Library.  They run creative writing workshops, a book group and engaging events for children in the school holidays and at weekends.

2.  Independent bookshops bring writers and illustrators into the heart of the community.  In the past year, Urmston Bookshop has played host to Johnny Vegas, Ann Widdecombe and children’s author Steve Hartley among many other luminaries.  They even held a book launch for a cat!  This Thursday they have organised an evening with literary legend Joanna Trollope at Urmston Library.

3.  Independent bookshops are run by people who love books, rather than big companies who see books as units to be shifted at maximum profit, no more special than a tin of beans or a tube of toothpaste.  Frances and Peter Hopkins at Urmston Bookshop know and love books and they give fabulously apt recommendations – and not in a robotic, Amazon-esque ‘people who bought X also bought Y’ kind of way.

4.  Independent bookshops pay their taxes.  There are approximately 1,028 bookshops in the UK.  If they each pay tax of £10,000 (and it really isn’t worth all their hard work if they are paying less than this, so this estimate is very conservative) that’s £10 million per year.  Did you know that on-line bookselling behemoth Amazon paid just £2.4 million in UK corporation tax in 2012?  On top of that, more of the money you spend in an independent bookshop stays in the community: the Centre for Local Economic Strategies says that for every £1 that is spent with a local, independent business, between 50p-70p circulates back into that local economy.  Independent bookshops are good for our local economy.  Amazon does nothing for our local economy and pays disproportionately into our greater economy: that’s why their books are cheaper.

5.  Independent bookshops encourage other interesting businesses to open up in the same area.  Flixton Road in Urmston now boasts an utterly charming vintage shop, a specialist dancewear shop, a clothing boutique, a sweet shop, a tattoo parlour and many other quaint, quirky or useful little businesses that keep Urmston interesting.

Buying from your local independent bookshop is a much nicer experience than purchasing online.  This World Book Day, take a wander in to Urmston Bookshop and see for yourself how special it is.

Farewell, Original Lily’s!

Lily’s Coffee Lounge on Flixton Road has closed its doors – signalling the end of an era for coffee-loving lounge-abouters in Urmston.

Farewell to Lily's on Flixton Road.

Farewell to Lily’s on Flixton Road.  Photo courtesy of Lily’s.

Lily’s was the very first ‘modern’ coffee shop in Urmston – the first café to sell lattes and paninis and to have outdoor seating (unless you count Mrs Brown’s, the rough pub in the old precinct that used to shut at 5:30pm sharp).  I spent many happy hours lounging around in Lily’s, reading magazines and scoffing cake to a background of Frank Sinatra.

Lily's was Urmston's first 'modern' coffee lounge.

Lily’s was Urmston’s first ‘modern’ coffee lounge.  Photo courtesy of Lily’s.

I can remember I was sitting in Lily’s when my then fiancé rang from TGH to tell me that his ‘sore leg’ was actually broken and that he might have to weave his unsteady way down the aisle at our wedding in a plaster cast (oh, the drama!).  I can also remember taking my new baby there for his very nearly first outing, popping in for celebratory scrambled eggs on the day my business went independent and, on another visit to Lily’s, taking a call from a BBC producer which led to me being invited onto the BBC breakfast sofa as an expert in education.  Over the years I’ve drunk hundreds of cups of coffee in that little place with dozens of different people.

All of the above makes me quite sad that Urmston has lost its original Lily’s, but this isn’t one of those depressing ‘use it or lose it’ small business closure stories.  Lily’s at Eden Square is thriving – so much so that I couldn’t get in the other day and had to strop across to the ‘Big Chain’ coffee shop that was almost empty.  Lily’s at Eden Square is a remarkable, inspirational success story: a family-run business taking on and beating massive chains.

Lily's at Eden - an inspirational, independent success story.  Photo courtesy of Lily's at Eden.

Lily’s at Eden – an inspirational, independent success story. Photo courtesy of Lily’s at Eden.

In my opinion (and I do like to think of myself as Urmston‘s answer to Alan Sugar), Lily’s at Eden Square is so magnificently successful because it combines the benefits of an independent business (the owners are on site and present; Carol and Brian know their customers; the interior design and menu of the coffee lounge is unique and quirky and in no way generic) with a truly savvy approach to business.

A year ago, Lily’s had three branches (the coffee lounge on Flixton Road, the magnificent gift boutique on Crofts Bank Road and the Eden Square coffee shop); today, they have just one.  The reason they have closed two businesses is not because their businesses were failing but because they are clever enough to know that you should never spread yourself too thinly in business.  Thriving businesses require time, attention and sustained focus.

Lily's at Eden Square offers more than just a touch of luxury and sophistication.  Photo courtesy of Lily's.

Lily’s at Eden Square offers more than just a touch of luxury and sophistication. Photo courtesy of Lily’s.

They also know that you should never let sentiment get in the way of your business.  By that I don’t mean that you should ruthlessly rip out the throats of your competitors (let’s leave that to the Big Boys) but that you should make decisions based on the viability of your business and not on how much you like running it.  Many, many small businesses make very little profit but they carry on because the owner has a pension or other income that makes up the shortfall.  That’s not a business: it’s a hobby, and anyone who has ever run their own full-time business knows that it’s far too much hard work to ever be an appropriate hobby.  A less canny business person might have continued with the gift shop and the original coffee shop for sentimental reasons; they could have carried on working longer hours for less profit, but the true businessperson will understand that it makes sense to focus on Lily’s at Eden and let others take over the reins elsewhere.

So a new chapter opens on Flixton Road: Darby’s Coffee & Arts Lounge aims to showcase local independent artisans and musicians while still meeting our communal need for caffeine, cake and homemade soup.  Lily’s at Eden Square, meanwhile, will continue to show the big chains how it’s done – serving up literally thousands of meals and snacks every week in the very heart of Urmston, including – from this week – a tapas menu.