Magazines, mix ups and merriment were always in plentiful supply on a visit to Newell’s newsagents in Queen Street.
The business is set to close at the end of March with owners Trevor and Sandra Newell preparing for a well-earned rest.
The newsagents was founded by the Castles family, setting up in William Street before moving to Queen Street. Trevor’s father Sammy took over in 1971, inheriting a valued member of staff in the shape of Hazel Hobson.
Trevor and Sandra have run the shop since 1983 with Hazel a permanent fixture until her recent retirement.
Although the newsagents, and with it the Newell family home, is now at the end of the row, it had previously been neighboured by Kiddy Togs, a children’s clothes shop, which was demolished to widen Robert Street when Lurgan pool was built.
Trevor recalled the early days: “When we first came here we’d three breadmen who lifted our papers on their rounds. You either got your papers by coming into the shop or getting them out of the breadvan,” he said.
“Those were the days when a newsagents sold newspapers and petrol stations sold petrol.
“You had the Optical and Saracens in the town and the workers were in from 6am to buy their papers for work. The seventies and eighties were a boom time for newsagents.
“Then you had petrol stations and supermarkets selling papers which was a big blow for small newsagents. We survived thanks to loyal customers.
“Every office in town used to have papers delivered. Then you’d places like the hospital who used to have all the papers delivered to every ward.
“In recent years people have started getting their news online whether it’s on their phones or computers. That’s been a big challenge and again we’ve got our loyal customers to thank for keeping us afloat.
“But now we feel the time is right to call it a day.”
He commented: “I will miss the banter. I’ve had 30 years of it. There might be three boys in and one of them is getting all the stick. But the next time they’re in it’ll be a different one who gets the stick.
“Then there’s the nicknames. I get Arkwright, Sandra is Nurse Gladys and whenever Adam used to work in here he got G-G-G-Granville.
“I’ll be sad when it all comes to end. Although it was a shop first and foremost, it was also a meeting place and somewhere you could come for a bit of craic.
“It’s amazing the amount of people still call us Sammy Newell’s,” he added.
Newell’s will always be remembered for its fleet of paperboys. Sandra said: “We’re the only ones outside Belfast who still have paperboys.
“They used to go out in all weathers but with health and safety now you can’t send them out in certain conditions. Some might have started as young as 10. Now they have to be 13.
“Some families have had all their boys through the shop. Off the top of my head there’s been the Uprichards, the Wings, the Binghams and the Heasleys. When the eldest stops, the next one takes over, then the next, and the next.”
Sandra added: “All our paperboys and girls have gone on to success. They’ve learnt discipline, respect for their elders, timekeeping, organisation and responsibility. It sets them up well. I think everyone should serve their time as a paperboy or girl.
“They were an inspiration to us, keeping us young and up to date and I know the older customers valued them greatly. They got their rewards at Christmas time. The customers are so generous when it comes to giving tips at Christmas.”
Trevor continued: “Saturdays were the busiest day for us. We’d be open from 6am to 10pm. We had to get extra staff in - our Saturday girls.
“The Ulster kept us busy on Saturday nights. And because the shops were closed on Sunday you’d get people coming in to get their sweets for weekend.
“The Ulster was our biggest seller. There were queues when it arrived on a Saturday night. I remember one night in particular it started snowing at 7pm.
“It must have been 8pm before the paper came in. There was standing room only in the shop by the time it came in. The shop was full but no one had bought anything until the Ulster arrived. Then they started ordering quarters of sweets, crisps and drinks when they were paying for their Ulsters. It was bedlam.
“We stayed open to 10pm on Saturday nights when the Ulster came in. I remember Wesley Ferris, God rest his soul, would ring at about five to 10 to say he was on his way. Every week I met him at the side door after we’d shut.”
He recalled: “There used to be a wee paper boy who came in and took a few dozen Ulsters to sell around the town on a Saturday night. This was back in my dad’s time. The paper was only a few pence back then so the ones buying it would always throw him a bit more.
He’d come back with all the papers sold and hand my dad the money. Dad would count it out, take the value of the papers and give him the rest. He always ended up making more than my dad did from the papers.”
Asides from newspapers and magazines, Newell’s did a great line in confectionary.
Trevor said: “The mix ups have always been popular. For kids of all ages, especially the very big ones.
“I’ve a sweet tooth myself. I couldn’t narrow it down to a particular favourite, but then I work here so I don’t need to. I can just lift whatever I want.
“I’ll always remember Spangles. There was one that was a mustardy colour that was absolutely rotten.”
Trevor and Sandra are a fairly unique couple having worked in close proximity for most of their adults lives.
Trevor explained: “I worked in Ralph’s (pub in Robert Street) for 10 years. That’s where I met Sandra. She worked part time at the weekend.”
Having got married, the couple didn’t move far from where they met setting up home above the shop at the corner of Robert Street and Queen Street.
They have one son, Adam (28), who is married and living in Dundonald.
Sandra said: “Although we are looking forward to having more leisure time we will miss the company of the many loyal regulars who visit us each day.”
She told how the customers were always made to feel at home in the shop, and it was a common sight to see them help unload papers from the vans.
She added: “It has been a privilege to serve the community and we would like to thank the people of Lurgan for their loyalty and support over the years.
“We hope to turn the building back into a large town house as it was originally and continue living here, so we will still see everyone about town.”