Back in 2011 Inveraray Jail closed its doors to the public for the first time in 21 years as improvements were made to the building. One of the most dramatic transformations was the Prison Shop. It was completely overhauled. The floor-to-ceiling shelves, which for years had covered up the windows, were removed to let the light flood in and the old carpet was lifted to reveal a lovely parquet floor. With a brighter space and better layout, the shop team, led by Shop Manager Fiona Munro, could focus on introducing a bigger and better range of products. It was certainly a success. Two years on and the shop is more popular than ever. The new look has been a hit not just with tourists and visitors to the jail, but with locals too. They regularly pop in to buy one-off gifts or treat themselves to something a little bit different.
Fiona, who’s worked at the jail for 12 years, says the winning formula is variety and affordability. ‘We offer something for everyone, from books to games to postcards,’ she explains. ‘We recently introduced lots of lovely accessories and home-ware. The handbags and scarves flew off the shelves!’ The selection of jewellery has expanded too, and now includes Ladybird for children, Sparkle Moment for teenagers and the quirky Nova Silver for adults. Another new collection that’s proved popular is the beautiful slate table-ware by the Just Slate Company. The slate trays with chilli-pepper handles were a real triumph and quickly sold out.
Fiona’s keen that the shop should add to the retail options available in Inveraray rather than compete with what’s already on offer. ‘We want to enhance the shopping experience in the town and provide something a bit unique,’ she says. That’s why the shop doesn’t stock lots of candles and beauty products – the wonderful Purdie’s of Inveraray on the Main Street already does that very well. There’s one beauty range that Fiona couldn’t resist, however: the Rest and Be Thankful spa collection by Made in Heaven. Well, the name’s just too good!
As well as trying out new products, Fiona continued to build on the shop’s successful lines. The extensive book range, for example, has always been extremely popular. You’ll find everything from great Scottish novels to stories about real-life criminals to books about local history. Para Handy by Neil Munro has remained the top-seller over the years; not surprising when you consider that the author’s house is just around the corner and the Vital Spark is moored in the town. Many of the shop’s customers are visiting the area on holiday. With this in mind, there’s a selection of great holiday reads and children’s books. There are also lots of games and puzzles to keep kids entertained on a wet-weather day – this is the West Coast of Scotland after all!
The Inveraray Jail-branded range, known as ‘swag’, has stood the test of time too. Confectionary with fun names such as ‘Prison Bars’ of chocolate and jars of ‘Punish Mints’ make great souvenirs or gifts. ‘People are always looking for a little thing to remind them of their visit or to take home as a present for a relative. Sometimes it will be a little thank you present for the neighbour who’s watered the plants or looked after the dog,’ explains Fiona. ‘That’ why we’ve lots of inexpensive options, such as fridge magnets or key rings, which are also great for children on the lookout for a wee memento to take home for a grandparent.’ Other best sellers are the children’s police hats and handcuffs. ‘We’ve sold thousands of them over the years,’ says Fiona.
So next time you’re making your escape from Inveraray Jail, don’t forget to swing by the Prison Shop and grab some swag! If you’re too pushed to ”do time” in the prison, you’re still very welcome to visit the shop. It’s open all year.