Last Shops Standing...

Union Music, Lewes

Running a burlesque boutique in a Sussex market town wasn't enough of a challenge for Stevie Freeman. With musician husband Jamie, she'd always dreamed of running a folk and country record shop, with a tiny stage in the corner, just like bars in Nashville. But she knew that 2010, post-recession, wasn't the best time to do it.
"And then we saw this place," Freeman says. Union Music came to life in a quirky one-storey building near Lewes railway station, and the husband-and-wife team then got to work, making the shop furniture themselves in their garden, "from bits of wood to keep things really cheap". The shop quickly became a community hub. The Freemans host regular gigs, work with a local youth charity, Starfish Youth Music, to support new musicians, and even run their own record label.
It was important to Stevie that the shop be welcoming to women, too; their Facebook page, she says proudly, has more female than male visitors. "Running a record shop nowadays, you have to be welcoming. Make your shop look friendly and warm. That'll keep people coming in." Those who have come in include Mumford & Sons, who made a special pilgrimage there last year ("I'd popped out," Freeman sighs). The band loved Lewes so much they're holding a festival there in July.
It also helps that the town's council supports independent businesses, Freeman adds. "If the chains had taken over Lewes, it would be difficult, but we're very lucky here." Her enthusiasm tells its own story. "Our dream came true."
Prize stock: "I've just sold it – a 10" Hank Williams album that I accidentally bought in America, stuck in between two others." Its buyer? Local Lib Dem MP Norman Baker.

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