Like many other indie shops, on Wednesday December 2nd Old Town General Store in Stockport will joyfully open its doors to customers again. Unlike most of its shop mates, the store was first launched at the end of October and was open for just a few days before the second lockdown. Gulp.
In today’s blog, the store owner Tony tells us why he set up shop in the middle of a pandemic, why quality socks could be on everyone’s Christmas list this year and what’s kept him going through this rollercoaster we call 2020…
First, let’s talk shop, what lovely stuff can we buy in Old Town General Store?
We are a lifestyle store selling a vast range of mens and ladies fashion, homewares, gifts and beauty. For fashion, key brands include Armor Lux, Hartford, Klemen, Lollys Laundry and Gramicci.
Across beauty I try to keep to smaller Independent brands like locally made Pilgrim candles and room sprays, Ecoya (recently launched into the UK), Narloa skincare and the Natural Deodorant Co.
Our homeware mix includes recycled glass vases by Jarapa, stainless steel launch boxes by Black and Blum and gin glasses – loads of gin glasses.
Where did you earn your retail stripes?
I have always worked for large retailers including Flannels, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges. Latterly I was the Retail Director at Harveys of Halifax. I worked for the family owned store for over 12 years and believed I was working towards my retirement there. I enjoyed everyday of my job.
I have been in retail for 30 years and I have never known a year like 2020. It was tough enough on the high street before COVID took control.
How did Old Town General Store come to life?
Like many others, I became a victim of COVID and was made redundant in July. I was applying for jobs and having good responses but nothing felt right and I started to think about opening my own store. It’s always been a dream to open my own shop.
Encouraged by my wife and a lot of people in the trade I started to look for a property. The General Store element means I can flex what type of products I sell rather than committing to just menswear for example. A store was quickly found, and suppliers have been really supportive in helping me with stock and getting set up.
How did you choose where to set up shop?
I never considered anywhere other than Stockport. I’ve lived here for almost 14 years and with all the current investment in the town centre and a thriving independent shopping, bar and restaurant scene it just felt like the right place to set up.
When did Old Town General Store open its doors?
The business was set up early August 2020. The online store has been trading since the start of October when I got the keys to the store. The store opened October 30th 2020
It’s been a challenging year to set up a new business, what’s kept you going?
I love the genuine support that customers give to you – especially this year. They all want to help out, spend time talking to you and visit. I know I only had 6 days trade but in the short time we where open I was humbled by some of the comments by customers and how glad they where that we had opened. This has continued through lockdown on social media and online ordering.
Which items are your best sellers?
Magpie + Peanuts! Anybody that knows me knows that my wife, Jane, is the biggest of Snoopy fans, so stocking it in the shop was a bit of a thank you to her for her support in setting up the store. In truth – I can’t keep it in stock! Everybody loves Snoopy.
We have also had an amazing response to Woodspring Co Candles – the clementine and clove being very popular in the run up to Christmas. Very reasonably priced, beautifully packaged and a great burn time.
And socks – everybody loves socks? We sell Donegal wool socks and these have been a great success – they are ideal for walking but I know a lot of customers have been wearing them round the house during lockdown
What have you learnt this year?
I’ve learnt that I will never have a tougher start to opening a business! I was literally trading for just 6 days before the second lockdown was introduced. I thought my job was safe forever, but I’ve grabbed an opportunity I never would of progressed if I hadn’t been made redundant.
One bit of advice – whatever your budget – increase it. At one point I was changing the shop name to ‘cost a lot’ as things go wrong or brands get in touch and you want to stock them!
What would you say to somebody who wants to set up their own shop?
Go for it! It may seem a bit strange but this could be the perfect time to set up. There are so many empty shops in town centres that support should be available to get you started. COVID has given local high streets and independent traders a real boost as people start to discover them again.
We know our customers by name, how good does that make you feel? You can react to their needs much better. Seeing the joy on peoples faces as I do a local delivery drop off makes it all worthwhile.
Also speak to other independent traders and they will not only support, but encourage and help out – there is a real sense of community between independents.
Tony Murray is the owner of Old Town General Store, 24 Lower Hillgate, Stockport, SK1 1JE. For opening times check the website and socials.