It’s probably only natural when you’re 19 to want to move away from home and enjoy some independence.

That’s what brought Suzanne Huddart from Lancashire to Carlisle. She reckoned she could help out in her aunt’s clothes shop for a short time before moving on. She didn’t expect to be there now.

But she ended up staying. And when her aunt Alice Quinney retired she bought the shop from her.

So Suzanne, now 53, has spent most of her life at Alice boutique, albeit in one of the most picturesque spots in Carlisle – directly opposite the cathedral.

This year the shop celebrates its 40th birthday and Suzanne marks 33 years working there.

“I came here mainly for a change of scenery for a while,” she recalls with a chuckle. Yet the job suited her and she’s never really wanted to leave. “I just love it so much.”

Suzanne admits she had no specific career in mind when she took what she thought would be temporary job. But she reckons it was in the genes.

Her Aunt Alice had worked as a model and as a buyer for other shops in the city before setting up her own business.

And Suzanne has always shared that interest. “I’ve always been absolutely mad about clothes, from when I was very small.”

Working in a one-off clothes shop with a lot of regular customers turned out to be quite different from working elsewhere.

“Some people have a job in a shop and just stand there,” she says. “I was trained in how to do it properly.”

So while customers in a large high street clothes shop pick something off the rail and take it to the tills, Suzanne’s approach is different.

“I buy in things specially for girls I know – I know what they like and what suits them. I would never sell anyone something that didn’t suit. That’s why we’re still here!”

When Alice decided to retire Suzanne took over. “I thought it would be a shame if it was to go. And I was part of the furniture by then!”

She wanted to keep to the same formula. So it doesn’t stock the kind of disposable teenage fashions of the national chains and she points out: “It’s not a shop that follows magazine trends.”

She abides, she says, by the principle that “style never goes out of fashion”. Slim and elegantly dressed herself, Suzanne looks rather like the typical customer as well as the owner.

The shop may be celebrating its 40th birthday but she stresses that it’s not just for women who were born before the shop was.

Typical ages range from 30 upwards. – so it’s not entirely tweed suits.You’ll also find jump suits, skinny jeans, maxi dresses and other smart casual clothes – as well as jewellery, scarves and handbags.

Like all experienced clothes dealers she’s seen colours and fashions return.

“Jump suits were big in the 1980s and they’re back. Maxi dresses are back and they were popular in the 70s.”

In 33 years in Castle Street the changes Suzanne has observed have not just been in clothes.

She saw department store Bulloughs become Hoopers and later close down. The premises had a brief but unfortunate reinvention as Paris, and are now standing empty.

“When Hoopers closed footfall fell in the street,” she found. “It wasn’t just a store but also a popular restaurant, especially for ‘ladies who lunch’.

“There have been loads of different shops here, from wine bars to gift shops to chocolate shops, to an Eddie Stobart shop, a Barbour shop and haberdashery shop – the list is endless. But private shops are getting less and less and all town centres are beginning to look the same.

“We are one of the longest here.”

When Suzanne was a 19-year-old shop assistant Castle Street was busy with traffic.

Many people approve of pedestrianisation of the city centre but she doesn’t.

“It hasn’t done anything for us,” she complains “Castle Street is now just a wide empty street with tombstones on it.

“When you had parking you always got people coming in here.”

Pedestrianisation might have been an attempt to encourage continental-style cafe culture in the city but she reckons it was never going to work.

“It’s too cold. Castle Street is the coldest street in town!”

Suzanne Huddart Still, the location has its advantages. Tell anyone that your shop is opposite the cathedral and they’ll know exactly where to find it.

Visitors to Tullie House or the castle are also likely to pass it and call in. Some become regular customers. “We have people from Scotland and Lancashire,” says Suzanne.

Another of her near neighbours is the Royal Bank of Scotland. And if it hadn’t been there she mightn’t have met her husband Malcolm.

In 1988 the bank had been robbed at gunpoint. There had been armed robberies at some of the city’s building societies as well and staff were naturally nervous. So the police wanted to provide some reassurance. Malcolm was a community beat officer at the time and his bosses sent him to keep an eye on the bank. They told him: “See if you can find somewhere nearby where you don’t look too obvious.”

Alice boutique seemed ideal. But Suzanne felt the sight of a uniformed copper standing in the shop would be off-putting for some customers, so she sent him down to the basement when any of them came in.

Then one day, not long after, Suzanne got a phone call at work. It was Malcolm, asking: “Do you fancy going out some time?”

He might have been a man in uniform, but Suzanne was hesitant at first. “I was a career girl,” she says. “But my aunt said: ‘Just go.’

“When I got home that night I told her: ‘I’m going to marry him.’”

And they did marry, nine months after that first date. In November they’ll celebrate their 29th wedding anniversary.

Malcolm, 60, has retired from the police and now helps with running the shop. “I went from a career in uniform to a career in women’s clothes!” he reflects.

How does a small shop possibly compete against the might of the huge chains? Suzanne argues that she’s not really in competition with them. “We have a completely different type of customer. They wouldn’t go to Primark and a Primark girl wouldn’t come here. There’s room for both.”

Shops like Debenhams or Marks & Spencer may attract a similar sort of customer to Suzanne. So the personal touch, the likelihood that she’ll know many of her customers, is something that sets her shop apart.

Another advantage is the flexibility that comes in being your own boss. For example, chain stores across the country will get instructions from head office on what clothes should feature in their window displays, and when. “We can put what we want in our windows.”

Suzanne travels to Dusseldorf twice a year to look at the latest clothes. When she’s in Germany – or when she and Malcolm are on holiday – she leaves the shop in the capable hands of Janet Barry, who has been there since Suzanne became owner 12 years ago.

Janet was working at the Estée Lauder counter in Boots when Suzanne recruited her.

“She had no intention of going to another job,” Suzanne says. “I wore her down!

“We are great friends and we make a great team. We try to make clothes shopping easy and fun.”