“It’s become more than just a business,” says Underground owner Iain Don Murray as the Stornoway shop celebrates its 20th anniversary this month.
“I’ve made a lot of friends through the shop and the fishing,” Iain Don continued. “We’ve become part of the circuit, as it were, and many mornings folks will come in just to have a yarn.
“I’m thankful that I have this business, I get out of bed quite happy to come into work. And I want to thank everyone for their support, thanks to our repeat customers – without that support, we would not still be here.”
August 1998 saw the opening of the first Underground shop, situated on Bayhead, in a bid to offer something new to Stornoway – a men’s clothing store offering budget and affordable fashions.
“I think when we first started we probably had the same amount of stock for the entire shop as we hold in our store cupboards now,” chuckled Iain Don as he recalled the business’ beginnings.
After four years at Bayhead, Underground then moved closer to the town centre, opening in premises on Cromwell Street, across the road from the Bank of Scotland.
And with a move of premises came a move in the choices offered by Underground as Iain Don aimed to deliver what customers were looking for.
“When we started it was all about budget clothing, but then we moved into branded clothing as that’s what everyone wanted 15-odd years ago,” he said.
“We then also went into fishing tackle opening our Go Fish business, concentrating mainly on fly fishing as there wasn’t a lot available in Stornoway then at the time.”
Business going well, and six years on Underground moved again, this time to its present home on Francis Street, Stornoway, where Iain Don continues to ensure he stocks what islanders want – offering a real alternative to internet shopping.
“The internet is our biggest challenge; in shopping it’s our main competitor,” he expanded. “I think though because we sell clothing and footwear, people still want to see the garments, to come in and try on the shoes; and there are always people who need the items that day, they can’t get that through the internet.”
Iain Don continued: “Over the last few years we’ve also gone back to budget clothing as we found since the recession people just aren’t looking to buy £60 jeans anymore.
“We still have our fishing stock, and another big thing is our footwear range. We’ve also expanded into offering men’s suits and dress shoes – we felt there was a gap for that when Murdo MacLean’s closed, so we’re delighted to be able to offer that back to island shoppers again.
“And we sell The Nicolson Institute school wear which I think is great for island parents – they can bring the kids in to try on the schoolwear, to make sure things fit well in good time before the start of school.”
Twenty years since first opening and Underground is still going strong – thanks in part to Iain Don’s innovation and desire to ensure he carries what islanders want, but also to the many people who have supported and shopped at Underground over the past two decades.
“You have to move with the times and I’ve always tried to hone in on what people want,” Iain Don said, adding: “We rely on our returning customers, our core group of fishermen, the local people who make sure to shop locally and not go straight to the internet.
“And we’d like to say Thank You for all the support we’ve received over the past 20 years – you’ve made this more than just a business!”