You may think that superstores could never be anything but dull and anonymous places. Nothing could be further from the truth in the case of Trago Mills, a unique set of shops with an unusual history.
In the 1960s Mike Robertson decided to start up his own business. It was becoming widely reported that the cost of living in the north of England was cheaper than in the south-west, where poor transport links and the distance from London had made shopping more expensive. Robertson travelled „up north“ and returned with a selection of products which he sold at reduced price to the people of Liskeard, in Cornwall. It proved an immediate success.
Robertson’s „Robin Hood“ antics also included breaking the law by opening his store on Sundays (illegal until 1994). For years he incorporated a „Tripehound“ comment column in his stores‘ adverts, giving his controversial opinions. He faced opposition to expanding his Liskeard store, and some say that the statues in the gardens look rather like unflattering versions of local councillors.
There are now three huge Trago Mills department stores in the westcountry at Liskeard, Falmouth and Newton Abbot, and work is now underway to open a store in Merthyr Tydfil in Wales. The company is now owned by Bruce Robertson, the controversial son of the founder. He was embarrassed in 2007 when, despite the fact that he is a major supporter of the United Kingdom Independence Party which campaigns for the UK’s separation from the European Union, it was discovered that he was employing around 30 Polish migrants in his Newston Abbot store.
The Newton Abbot site is, at present, the largest of the department stores. It made the headlines in 2004 when a huge fire swept through part of the store and needed 200 fire-fighters from all over the area to bring it under control. The newly rebuilt store boasts over 80.000 products, anything from paperclips to carpets, across 38 different departments. It certainly is an unusual shopping experience which is why there are those for which the name „Trago mills“ strikes dread and for others it is a „fun for all the family“ day-trip.
Fun for all the family? Well, if shopping’s not your thing, you can ride on a miniature steam railway, try out go-karts or visit the animal park. Alternatively you can fish in the lakes, or take a spin on the all-weather skating rink. There’s also a traditional „penny arcade“ full of old fairground games, and one of the westcountry’s largest and most impressive model railways – plus lots more. There really is nowhere like Trago Mills.
You can visit Trago Mills by taking the train or bus to Newton Abbot, then taking bus 39 from Sherborne Road towards Exeter. Alight at the Trago Mills roundabout.
Find out more on the website of Trago Mills.