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From London’s ‘hippy heaven’ to downtown Darlington: Guru Boutique celebrates 50 years of commerce

An iconic boutique in the heart of Darlington turns 50 this Wednesday. Guru Boutique opened its doors on March 16, 1972 and has been a staple in the city ever since.

From hippie clothes to crystals to punk band t-shirts and everything in between, Guru has been popular with everyone from college students to retirees, and still draws crowds today.

Beryl Hankin, 78, is the owner of Guru and was inspired to open the shop after visiting London during the Summer Of Love in 1969. Her mission was to bring “color and hippie vibes” to her hometown of Darlington.

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Beryl said: “I toured in a blues rock band in the late 60s and to find hippie clothes we had to go all the way to London. Carnaby Street had become quite commercial by then but Kensington was hippy heaven! So we thought of trapping in London instead – why not bring some hippie vibes back to Darlington with us?

“I opened the shop with my late mother in 1972, in 1973 my friend Tony Smith joined us with new boy Colin Harrison who joined the shop in 1990. There is no real boss at Guru, we all get involved and keep going, we must be doing something right if we’ve been open for 50 years!

Shop Guru in the 1980s

“We also have a fantastic girl at Kelly McWilliams who has worked here for 25 years, we have of course had our fair share of Saturday boys and girls over the years who we are still good friends with.”

Guru sells a wide range of wonderful items ranging from fair trade clothing, healing crystals, incense, ‘everywhere in the world’ accessories and quirky greeting cards. Popular with students, the shop has been an iconic part of Darlington for half a century, with generations of the same family passing through the door.

Beryl added: “It’s so interesting to see all of our customers because we have people who came when we first opened our doors and then their children followed them and now we have a third generation of customers who come to see us. We even brought in celebrities before they were famous, including Vic Reeves who loved to buy us patchouli oil!”

To celebrate their 50th anniversary, the Guru team had planned to throw a party; but with current events, it didn’t seem right to me. Instead, they ran a fundraising booth with all proceeds going to humanitarian aid in Ukraine.

The iconic Guru storefront on Blackwellgate, Darlington
The iconic Guru storefront on Blackwellgate, Darlington

Beryl said: “We had a lovely 50th birthday, we had a live band on Wednesday morning and a lot of people were buying things from our stall. After covid, my husband’s death and the current war in Ukraine, it doesn’t bother me. just didn’t seem right to have a big party.

“But all the donations we make from our booth will be sent to help those in need in Ukraine, we had a lot of money in our donations hat and it’s been a hectic morning!”

With 50 years on the main street of Darlington already under her belt, Beryl is already looking to the future at Guru.

She added: “We love it here! We never plan what are the next steps we take each coming day and that’s probably what got us through the last 50 years. The shop has old faces and new faces coming in all the time, as long as it keeps going!”

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