Abbotts Greengrocers is moving to new premises. Alfred’s Keri Jones spoke with its new owner about his first six months of operating the business and his future expansion plans.
Ross Townsend took over Abbott’s in February after Paul Rowe retired, following 51 years in the business. Ross says trade is going well. “It’s alright actually,” he smiled.
He’s increased the number of runs he makes down to Southampton each week. Every trip to the wholesale market begins just after midnight and Ross says that he hasn’t minded the through-the-night working in his new role, but he says that dealing with VAT returns have not been fun.
He has big plans for the greengrocers, starting with a small move along Bell Street – a few doors down, “next to Jean’s sweetshop,” said Ross. The landlord who owns this block of shops has already started remodeling the former clothes store, Bijoux and Willow.
“It should be finished at the end of September. As soon as he completes building or renovating there, we’re moving in. Then he wants to renovate this building. I think we’ll probably stay in the other one, down there. It’s the right size, the right shape.”
Ross’ current shop unit will also be upgraded and enlarged but he doesn’t want to move back when that work is done. “It’s going to be too big, this one. And I don’t want to move twice,” he said.
As Abbotts will have an increased floor space in its new home, Ross wants you to tell him what you think he should stock, alongside his fruit and vegetables. “We are going to have more room. We’re going to be able to do more varieties of things, so I need to know what people want in the shop.”
He believes there is an opportunity to fill the gaps left by businesses that have ceased trading in town. “We’ve had a supermarket close up here. We’ve had the deli close,” said Ross, who has some ideas about the types of lines he might add. “More grains, olives and pasta. It would be good to have an idea of what we’re going to do. People could pop in and say, ‘I miss this from Shaftesbury’, and I can look into it.”
He has spoken with eco-entrepreneur Lucy Barfoot, of plastic-free shop Coconut and Cotton in Swan’s Yard about selling those items without packaging. That move would require shoppers to take their own containers. “Lucy’s been really helpful. Everybody is trying to cut down on plastic,” said Ross.
The landlord will also redevelop the space that has been home to Chinese takeaway Yuk Wah since 1997. Owner Danny Lai says he’s ready for his retirement and will close sometime in September.
Ross cannot wait to relocate along the street because the new base will allow him to put his own mark on the business. “I can make everything my own,” he said. But he promises that the Abbotts name, used in Shaftesbury since 1954, won’t change. “No, that’s been here a long time. I can’t do that.”