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Shops in Balallan

Shops in Balallan

Shopping in Balallan

During the early 20th Century, Balallan was well provided for by the numerous shops which were found scattered throughout the township.

In those days, travelling by foot was not easy as the roads were either non-existent or in a very poor condition and so, in many places, the most convenient means of transport was by boat.

The needs of the community were very simple. On the whole, the families tended to be self-sufficient, only needing to buy provisions of flour, oatmeal, sugar, tea, paraffin for the numerous oil lamps and Black Twist tobacco which was measured out by the ounce by means of two notches on the counter top, giving exactly one ounce. Many items came to the shop in bulk - tea in chests, sugar in a sack, butter in a wooden box, bacon by the roll, biscuits from Ness (briosgaidean Niseach) in a sack, sweet biscuits loose in tins, herring in a barrel, dried salted tusk in a sack, paraffin in a drum, etc. All these commodities had to be either measured, weighed or counted. The big barrel of shiny, rosy red Canadian apples with their wonderful aroma and the boxes of juicy oranges individually wrapped in tissue paper heralded the approach of Christmas when children looked forward to an apple or an orange or both, in their stockings, not expecting and seldom getting, toys.

Housewives knitted socks and golf hose which were exchanged in the shops for goods.

Times were relatively good - potatoes were plentiful, plenty eggs, mutton and often, between two families a slaughtered cow, and fish from Loch Erisort as most families owned a boat.

Kenneth Macleod (Coinneach a Cheannaich) of 20a Balallan, who had been educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and University, settled on the croft and from Buth Coinneach a Cheannaich he sold groceries, footwear and sheep-dip. He was also the sub-postmaster and general tweed merchant.

This would have been the nerve centre of the village and possessed for some years, the only telephone. The store itself served as a ceilidh spot and especially on wintry nights, the customers would sit around on empty tea chests to gather the latest stories - the grocer being the fount of all wisdom. Customers came from as far away as Keose, Laxay and Arivruaich, mainly by foot and many a heavy load was carried home again.

The shop would be busy on Thursday evenings as loaves of bread were delivered by Danny Bobo, driving the baker's van from Mackenzie Bakeries, Bayhead Street, Stornoway. He always had interesting items of news from the town. Friday was the highlight of the week for the morning bus from Stornoway to Harris brought carcasses of meat to supplement those already slaughtered at home. It was also pension day and people swarmed from Arivruaich on the morning bus, got their pension, shopped and visited friends until the returning bus took them home again.

Donald Macleod (Domhnall Mor) had gone as a young man to Patagonia as a shepherd. He returned after serving in World War One and set up shop beside Coinneach a Cheannaich at 21b Balallan. Although selling the same commodities, there was no rivalry between them. When one sold out in one shop the other would come to the rescue.

In addition to the above, there was a shop at No 52 (Buth a Bheicear), the site which presently houses the shop and Post Office in Balallan and which supplied 'everything from a needle to an anchor'. John (am Beicear) had a 'giga' which he used to go to Stornoway with twice a week, in all weather, to collect the groceries.

I wonder how many people today whilst rushing around the supermarket, think with nostalgia on the many idle words bounced back and forth across the counter in the local shops.

This article was written by Joan Morrison, 20 Balallan for the Kinloch Historical Society

Title: Shops in Balallan
Record Type: Stories, Reports and Traditions
Type: Story
Record Maintained By: CECL
Subject Id: 37693