Monday will be a big day for Shaftesbury institution, Abbotts Greengrocers. The shop leaves its home of seven decades for new premises further along Bell Street. Alfred’s Keri Jones spoke with the owner.
Ross Townsend took over Abbott’s one year ago, following Paul Rowe’s retirement after 51 years in the business. Ross’ landlord, the owner of the block of shops which includes the old greengrocers and the former Yuk Wah takeaway, wants to renovate those units. Ross was keen to take on the larger premises of the former Bijoux and Willow shop.
“Is it three times the size?” Ross questioned, as he compared the size of the new shop with the old place. “There’s a back room. There is no basement, but the upstairs is much bigger,” he added, as he showed off the larger floor area.
The move has taken longer than Ross anticipated. “We were meant to open in September, and then November, then December and then in January. It’s now February and we are opening,” he smiled.
The shop’s interior is very different from the old Abbotts. It’s light and airy with a sloping, white-painted tongue and groove ceiling. The exposed brickwork on one wall and the three large pendant lights with bronze metal shades would all be at home in a hipster coffee shop or a microbrewery bar. “It’s quite a big space to fill. I tried to find the biggest lampshades I could, and I think they fit,” said Ross.
He is glad that he insisted on making the brickwork into a feature wall. “They were going to plaster over it, but I asked them to keep it as it is,” he said. Ross has designed the interior himself, rather than going to professional shopfitters. “I built all the shelves and the counter. It’s changed a lot because I’m indecisive,” he laughed.
The shop style is contemporary, but Ross has been keen to reflect the business’ long history. Old, original signage, in green and red painted lettering, is displayed on the walls. One of those hand-painted hoardings has been a timely discovery. It promotes ‘quality’ roses and bouquets for Valentine’s Day. “We found loads of old stuff in the basement when we had to clear it out,” he said. “They’re going up on the walls. We have some old price tickets. We going to dot old shop things around.”
Ross was fascinated to find documents and tickets displaying pricing in pre-decimal currency. “It’s old money that I’ve never seen in my life. We found an old invoice box from 1974. It has whole invoices costing under a tenner. It’s crazy,” Ross said.
The extra space will allow Ross to introduce some new lines. He has consulted Lucy Barfoot from Coconut and Cotton in Swan’s Yard over ways to offer more sustainable products. He’s fitted gravity bins, which will dispense rice, grains and pasta. “It’s a container that sits on the wall and you pull the handle. It drops into a bag, so if you just want a few, don’t pull the handle too much!”
Abbotts will also stock cheese, but Ross says shoppers should not expect to find that the new shop is packed when they visit from Monday. “We have hopefully got some packaged cheeses coming when we get a fridge. We are trying to get things that people want instead of filling the shop for opening day with stuff that nobody wants,” he explained.
The existing Abbotts shop will be emptied and vacated over the weekend. “The builders are keen to get in there and start,” said Ross. The shop is moving just fifty feet, but after more than 60 years in one spot, Ross will place a sign in the old store, directing customers to his new premises.