Vincent Fowler has been selling fresh fish on Mapperley Top for 10 years. It is his favourite spot. His van can be found between Bombay Brasserie and Costa Coffee on Tuesdays. He then trades from various locations across Nottingham in the week, returning to Mapperley on Saturday mornings. Regularly inspected by the local authority and with a Food Hygiene rating of 5, you could assume that he had been born and raised as a fishmonger. Quite the opposite. The trading name of Vincent van Cod came after two successful periods as a shoe retailer and then a furniture retailer in the City Centre.
The Fowler family moved to Nottingham from Swindon in the 1960’s due to their father taking a management role at Bell Fruit, Nottingham’s supplier of fruit machines. Setting up home on St Anns Hill, that un-adopted and cobbled street off Woodborough Road in the City; the family went on to running a hardware shop further out of town close to Hungerhill Road. Vincent has remained living in the area ever since. Having been brought up with an appreciation of running a business, he was not frightened to take on a challenge.
Whilst working for Derber Shoes on Long Row Nottingham, he was given an opportunity to take on the business as his own. The owner Danny Derber had brought high quality shoes to Nottingham, but was based in London. The figures for the deal with Vincent were written on a serviette at a hotel in London. Vincent was now the Nottingham branch of a business, whose trendy carrier bags were the ones to be seen carrying in 1970’s Nottingham.
Retailers and entrepreneurs never stand still. Vincent had a passion for retailing and despite the success of Derber Shoes, he later took on a pine furniture shop on Maid Marian Way. The ‘Pineapple’ sign is still visible on the empty shop after 11 years. It is not the only one either. No matter how good the product, Maid Marian Way has always been a difficult place for shops to thrive.
The harsh commercial lesson learnt at Pineapple lead Vincent away from shop premises and to take a product ‘on the road’. He spent a week with a mobile fishmonger, The Codfather, and learnt to ‘swim in the sea’ of mobile seafood. Mapperley had not had a fishmonger since Mapperley Fisheries closed in the late 1980’s. A gentleman’s agreement with the proprietor of Bombay Brasserie gave him a pitch to trade from.
Ten years on and Mr Van Cod operates five days a week at Mapperley (Tuesday), Southwell and Burton Joyce (Wednesday), Bilborough and Larkhill (Thursday), Spring Lane (Friday), before returning to his spiritual home at Mapperley on Saturday mornings.
When asked about the sacrifice of early morning starts and Saturday working, Vincent describes it as his social life. His customers are his ‘friends’ and being a non-drinker, pubs are something he doesn’t miss. His mates are the fellow fishmongers who support each other and co-exist. A father of five means he has plenty to take his mind off those 4am starts.
Having seen the shoppers on Mapperley Top for 10 years, he is excited about its commercial future. The arrival of the coffee shops such as Costa Coffee have helped to increase the footfall. They also supply him with a hot drink on those cold winter mornings!
As for his produce. All I can say is that if you buy your fish from a supermarket then you need to make time and seek out traders like Vincent van Cod. You know where you’ll find him.