If Gary France doesn’t know you, you’re clearly not from around here.
For 45 years, Darnall’s resident butcher has been at the heart of the small Sheffield community, and there are very few faces in the area he doesn’t know.
“I know all the good people and all the ‘likely lads’ too,” says Gary, as he wipes down a surprisingly gleaming chopping block and straightens his apron.
“Even the resident criminals, who disappear for a while when they’re put away, come by the shop once they’re back out and stop in for a chat - I’m the same with everybody.
“I’ve seen this community grow and thrive and I’ve watched in sadness as it’s crumbled too - I’ve been there for all the ups and downs.”
And after almost half a century spent serving the people of Darnall, the 60-year-old is preparing to hang up his apron next month.
I’ve seen this community thrive and have watched in sadness as it’s crumbled.
“It’s time. We’ve been getting offers for the store for a number of years and, finally, we looked around us and said - it’s time we go.”
And Gary’s decision is, at least in part, due to the changing community he has dedicated his life to.
“A decade ago, it was still the kind of place where everybody knew each other and I really enjoyed the people,” he recalls.
“People would come in to chat as they went about their shopping, but this last few years things have got worse and now I have customers who actually refuse to come into Darnall because they don’t feel safe. That’s a big part of the reason I’ve decided it’s time to move on.”
Gary’s Butchers, on Main Road, is a real ‘mom-and-pop’ type store, with rows of neatly stacked canned goods lining the shelves and faded photos filling the walls.
It’s easy to imagine it’s never looked any different, something Gary and wife Sue clearly take pride in.
“At one time, there were 20 butchers just like me within a mile radius - real community stores,” he says.
“I’m the last one standing and once I’m gone I suppose my customers will just have to go to the supermarkets for their produce. It’s the end of an era, it really is.
“This street used to be filled with sweet shops, bread shops, newsagents, greengrocers, upholsterers, a pie and pea shop - it was thriving. Now it’s all hairdressers and takeaways. It seems as if something bad happens around here every week.
“Our customers are the reason we’ve stayed as long as we have,” he adds wistfully.
“Some of the people who come in here are customers I’ve been serving since they were kids, coming in with their parents and grandparents. Now they’re coming through the door with children and grandchildren of their own.”
And for a just a moment, Gary’s eyes mist over as he looks around the small store where he has spent so much of his life.
“I’m going to miss it,” he says.
“I really do have incredible customers who’ve helped me to raise over £20,000 for local charities in the past 20 years - something I must thank them for, along with their support and loyalty.”
Gary began working at the shop in 1970 under former boss Graham Ray, before he and Sue bought it in 1992.
They often worked 72-hour weeks, while raising their two boys at home in Hackenthorpe.
When Sue was diagnosed with cancer recently, they made the decision to cut their hours and then - when another offer came in for the store - they decided to take it.
“It won’t be easy to leave. This is a community I’ve spent more time in than my own,” he says, shaking his head.
“The people here are like family and, in some cases, I’ve spent more time with them than I have with my own family.”
But Gary says despite his love for his job and the long and happy career he’s had, he’s grateful neither of his sons followed him into the trade.
“It’s too hard. I was pleased they made their own career choices. My eldest son is a sergeant in the RAF and my youngest is a manager for Cisco. They’re great lads and I’m really proud of what they’ve achieved.”
Gary will close his doors for good on Friday, July 17, a date which is coming around a little too quickly.
“It’s upsetting as it draws closer,” he said.
“There are a lot of goodbyes to say, a lot of photographs to take down from the walls. It won’t be easy to leave and we’ll miss the place.
“But I want my customers to know how important they’ve been to us. It’s always been about them, and we’re so proud, and honoured, we’ve been able to be a part of their lives for so long.”
A famous resident
According to Gary, one of Darnall’s most infamous residents, Charles Peace, lived right across the street from his shop, for a time, during the 19th century.
The ironically-named Peace was a burglar and murderer who embarked on a life of crime after being maimed in a steel mill accident as a boy.
He killed a policeman in Manchester before returning to his hometown of Sheffield and settling in Darnall. In 1876, he became obsessed with his neighbour’s wife and shot his neighbour dead on July 1 that year. He went on the run but was eventually captured and tried for murder at Leeds Assizes. He was found guilty and hanged at Armley prison.