Labour of love: the stunning new look of Craig’s Costcutter

Labour of love: the stunning new look of Craig’s Costcutter

Launched by his family  during lockdown, the spectacular Craig’s Costcutter in Derry is a tribute to the late David Craig who had originally come up with the plan, as NR finds out.

Anyone who walks into the foyer of the beautiful new Craig’s Costcutter at Crescent Link in the Waterside will immediately be struck by the spectacular lobby space with its tractor centrepiece.

So popular has it been that many children – and even some adults – have been coming along to take selfies beside the machine.

But what they may not realise is that the tractor – and the shop itself – is a tribute to the man who dreamed up the plans for the eye-catching forecourt.

Andrew Craig says the family started planning the store around six years ago when his late father David was still alive, and he and his siblings Allison, Suzanne, David and Steven, and mother Corinne carried on with the plan after his death.

“Our father started planning it and then he passed away in November 2017. We had the land at that point and we were building the shop, but we’ve slightly changed the design of the shop a bit,” Andrew says.

Tractor centrepiece

“The first tractor my father bought was that Ford 4000. We were doing it up when he was living – he was looking it done up – and then when he passed it was nowhere near finished.

“So then we decided to do it up and do something with it in the shop. I was thinking of maybe putting it outside or whatever, maybe with glass round it, but then the architects came up with the idea of putting it inside the shop.

“So we sent her away and got her fully done up, rather than just sitting in a shed, and we just put it on there.

“The architect had said you could put it there at the deli and make a queue right round it, with the impact as you go into the shop. It’s sitting up on a wee plinth, just as you come in – it’s straight in front of you and then the deli is wrapped around it.

“We’ve had ones taking photos of themselves, sitting on top of it and climbing all around it!”

Family history

The late David Craig was originally a farmer, but in the late 1980s he started selling some potatoes and fruit at the end of his lane, before moving the operation into a Portakabin.

Andrew takes up the story of how his dad made the decision to embark on a career in retail: “There was a boy selling at the end of the lane where my father would have turned in with tractors and trailers, and he said to him ‘Look, you wouldn’t mind going over to the layby at the other side of the road as we’ve big tractors and trailers to get in here’. But he was for staying, so that’s why my father started selling fruit and veg right beside him!

“At the start, it was mainly spuds, and then it was spuds and strawberries from the cart. And then he went into a wee Portakabin – the majority of it was spuds and anything my father grew, and then we were just getting some veg in, and added eggs and it just grew from there and he started selling coal..

“We’re actually a fuel business now and we deliver coal and oil to people’s houses.”

Evolving store

The first bricks and mortar shop was built in the early 1990s, and then its successor was built on the current site in 2008, Andrew says.

“When we started off, fruit and veg were the main things that we sold, and then fuel. When the new shop opened in 2008, that was the first time we had a deli. That shop was a third of the size of the current one, so probably 150 or 160 square metres,” he says.

“It was the standard things – chicken curry and chips, stews, lasagnes, sandwiches, sausage rolls, fries. It was a good size of a deli and they were making all of their own food from scratch.

“I remember my father asking me about putting a deli in when we were out and about, and I said if you go in the shops now, that’s what you’re starting to see.

“We were selling definitely a lot more sweets then and confectionery and that sort of side of the shop in 2008. The difference from that shop to this shop – it’s now three times the scale, and we’ve an off licence which we started a year and a half before we finished that shop. Then in the new shop as well, we have a new petrol station.”

New build

Building the new shop involved a fair bit of disruption. The old shop sat on what is now the car park, so the new shop was built behind it and the old shop was ultimately demolished to create that parking space.

The Crescent Link where the shop sits is now a dual carriageway and attracts a lot of passing trade, but was a single carriageway up until 2006/7.

Andrew says: “It comes off the Foyle Bridge and it would take you up to Altnaglevin then heading to Belfast. There are a lot of houses around it too, we’re right on the outskirts of Kilfennan, and 200-300 houses have been built nearly right beside us now on the other side of that dual carriageway.

“So we’re both types of site, if you know what I mean. We get a lot of regulars but you also get a lot of ones who are passing and just call in.

“My father always said we were green to it when we built that other shop and we just didn’t build it big enough – it wasn’t fit for purpose for the site and the traffic we had and the houses we had around it.

“So once we built it, we were trying to get the land behind us to build a new shop. We just wanted a bigger shop and we were trying to go for a petrol station as well and just got a good architect to design it and went on from there.”

Lockdown launch

The new 500 square metre shop opened on St Patrick’s Day last year when the lockdown was still in place.

“It’s your standard shop, deli, off licence, big fruit and veg section, all your standard confectioneries, wee post office in the corner, a wee ice cream counter,” Andrew says.

“We’re actually making our own ice cream now too called Daisy Moos, that was just done for that shop. There’s a bigger range of deli food.

“When we opened, there was a lot of interest – there were queues outside the door and we had to have someone on the door nearly steady. Basically the first few weeks were just crazy – everybody wanted out of the house to look at something!

“It was tricky for everybody, you just had to keep on putting people on the door.”

Pandemic restrictions

At the time the shop was dealing with the pandemic restrictions and offering deliveries to its most vulnerable customers.

“We had only opened that shop and it was probably 9-10 months after the pandemic started, so there was a month when we were completely closed,” Andrew says.

On the forecourt itself are two double pumps selling petrol, diesel and kerosene.

“We don’t sell any Ad Blue at the minute, but we’ll probably get a stand on site. We haven’t actually got that sorted yet, we’re just trying to get everything sorted at the minute,” Andrew says.

“There are two car washes at the back – just a pull up self service, the power hose and the foam brush.”

As with many forecourts at the moment, there were a few comments from customers about the rising fuel prices but it wasn’t too bad, he says.

“Everybody knows it’s just the way it is at the moment – there’s just nothing we can do. It nearly hit the £2 a litre mark … Especially when kerosene got dear – when it starts hitting near a £1 a litre for heating someone’s home, it’s not easy.”

Stunning design

Most of the interior and exterior forecourt design was carried out by Ashley Lamont of Whittaker + Watt and Andrew is full of praise for the new look he has devised.

“It’s very open, glass fronted floor to ceiling, very light and airy. When you’re inside it’s very nice, with lots of space even in between rows of shelves. The difference between that and our old shop is night and day,” he says.

“We would have had a lot of regulars anyway but there’s a lot of people coming in who really  love the shop. It’s hard to explain the difference between old and new but there’s a lot more space and it’s all just a lot easier.

“The old shop was slightly further up, but you’d see the new shop from the road a lot quicker, especially at night time with the lights on.”

Innovative approach

Ashley says the Craig family had originally decided upon a small extension to their existing store, but when he first saw the site it was clear that there was considerable space available at the rear.

“Most of the difficulty with retail refurbishments is trying to extend or renovate while trying to keep the business trading, because nobody wants to lose the sales due to their refurbishment work,” he says.

“In this case we actually built a brand new store at the back of the site. We had originally engaged with David Craig who unfortunately during the early design stages passed away and we worked with his sons and daughters to further develop the scheme.

“Craig’s Costcutter is a modern store with a dual carriageway setting in which you need to attract the passing customer’s attention within seven seconds.. So the facade had to be taller, it had to have more glass and more LED lighting to try and create a better thinking time, so the traffic could slow down and pull into the site.  That was a technique that was used on the outside.”

Ashley is proud of the unusual lobby with its tractor centrepiece, saying it actually became a good footfall driver for the new business.

“It was a nice nod to the original family members and a nice gesture for the new building,” he says.

To read the full feature in Neighbourhood Retailer, click HERE.