Another one bites the dust...
April 26, 2007 5:32 PM   Subscribe

Lovely English village is losing its shop. How can I find a fairy-godshopkeeper?

The village in which I live is losing its shop and I fear we may never see another. The owner is selling due to retirement, its been on the market for some time but there hasn't been much interest from people wishing to continue the business despite its popularity. This, I assume, is down to the high property prices in the area.

The latest word on the village grapevine is that the owner is now marketing the property as entirely residential and 'ready for conversion'. It's in a prime location and would likely be snapped up pretty quickly (at great loss to the village) and probably converted to flats.

But surely there must be someone in the world who'd want to buy the shop and run it as it is? (Somewhere in the world).

Now, without being a nosey so-and-so, I'd like to get the word out. Surely there must be some rich retiree in California/Bavaria/Tokyo who'd jump at the chance to run a shop in an idyllic English village? Where can I raise the alarm? I want to do this surreptitiously -- afterall, it really is none of my business -- but I want to get the word out so that it reaches that one rich Californian.

Oh, and there is one other thing, I'm skint. I can't afford advertising. Are there any sites that I could post to? How could I get the scent out to the press? What's the best way to do this undercover? Any other ideas?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think you would need to know more than you do right now about the economics of this. Presumably the shop isn't selling because it isn't possible to make a decent living, given the price and other factors. So if that is the case, what you would really be looking for is a rich person (or foundation?) to subsidize the shop -- to operate it at a loss. That sounds more like a job for whatever variant you have on a National Housing Trust, Historical Preservation Society, etc -- a local or national non-profit that is explicitly set up to lose money in return for societal gains.

In the meantime, I think your best and only hope is to try and grab media attention. A sympathetic story that gets picked up by international wire services will go a lot further than an ad on Craigslist.
posted by Forktine at 5:43 PM on April 26, 2007

This definitely sounds like something that you could do via a viral campaign (youtube videos etc) for little to no cost. How about approaching the current owner and asking him for his permission? It is in his interest to find a buyer after all, whether they buy it as a commercial or residential property. I think trying to do it undercover would be a bad idea, and there's no real reason the owner wouldn't mind.

There was a sort of similar campaign run by the National Trust (IIRC) in order to recruit new residents for some of the very remote Scottish isles. I remember hearing a story about it on NPR here in the US. I think if you were to make a blog with pics, or even better a video showing the 'idyllic English village' and shop, then write something coherent about the sad state of the traditional English village, disappearing lifestyle etc, you could probably get it picked up by some other blogs/papers etc. Just make an effort to write a good article, perhaps with links to other examples of this phenomenon.
posted by Joh at 6:06 PM on April 26, 2007

Could the shop site be zoned cleverly so that it _can't_ be turned residential? Mainly curious, also wondering if it's a possibility.
posted by amtho at 6:07 PM on April 26, 2007

If you want to try to reach out to some rich Californian (or American in general), here is a suggestion. Create a good info sheet about the property and what you are trying to do. Then contact all the chambers of the British American Chamber of Commerce in the US, all the British shops and The Union Jack, the expat paper published monthly (if it is still published), and distributed mostly in Florida and California (the states with the highest concentrations of British people). By reaching out to all of these sources, you have the greatest chance of your story reaching rich anglophiles (or sympathetic rich expats). You might also want to send a friendly to the Invest in Britain offices (usually at the consulates and the embassy) in the US. At the very least, do some research on the investment amounts required for a foreigner to be granted legal residence in the UK. This would be a good bit of info to include in your info sheet, as well.

I don't have time right now to put together links for the places I've mentioned, but if you email me, I'll dig up the links and send them to you.
posted by necessitas at 6:31 PM on April 26, 2007

A local shop? For local people?

I know a few well-off British expats in California. Send the details, and I'll pass them along. Email's in my profile.
posted by roger ackroyd at 6:39 PM on April 26, 2007

You could try to build support to run it as a co-op. I've seen a few shops in high-property values that did this succesfully.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 6:55 PM on April 26, 2007

The owner holds a lottery. The winner gets the shop. Anyone can buy into the lottery for, say, 10 pounds each and a letter explaining why they should win the shop and how they will run it.

The lottery is only valid if enough people enter to reach a specific minimum of what the shop is worth.

A contract is drawn up that stipulates that the winner must run the shop once it is won, or sell it back to the town for the price of their lottery ticket (10 pounds). The town could then seek a new shopkeeper.

Current owner gets their money out of the business. Town gets a lot of interesting public relations and (potentially) a passionate new shopkeeper.
posted by jeanmari at 8:11 PM on April 26, 2007

I feel like this question is written in a strange British code. It's English, but it's not American!

I checked. skint:lacking funds; "`skint' is a British slang term"

Is "shop" like a general store? A grocery store? Is this the only store around for miles and miles?

So ... You don't have any money and a business you like is leaving town. You're trying to find a way to get someone to take over the business, but you don't have any advertising budget that will allow you to track down the right person.

I think this is what craigslist was born for.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:24 PM on April 26, 2007

Yeh, it's unfortunate but happening all over the UK. I'm in London but even here in The East End we're seeing the quirky shops with character disappearing.

I'd suggest that you get the owner to post this on Businesses for sale.

It's essentially an Ebay for selling businesses and only businesses. You'll get the attention of folks that are seriously looking to purchase a business.

I'm always looking for opportunities myself, and know some people that have purchased or sold businesses on this site.

I mention getting the owner to post details because anyone serious is going to - very early on in the process - ask questions about the business, questions that you, as an interested bystander, won't have the answer to (e.g, "Annual turnover?", "Net profit?", "Stock period?", on and on).
posted by Mutant at 10:58 PM on April 26, 2007

Why don't you take it on? You may be skint, but you could draw up a business plan and go to a bank for a loan. You might lack experience but you probably have the emotional investment to want to make it succeed.
posted by markdj at 1:49 AM on April 27, 2007

The problem with rural business at the minute is two-fold. Firstly house prices in most rural areas of the UK are whopping - this means that there's a need for a massive amount of capital to keep a business going. A rural Post Office in Gloucestershire was on sale recently for £1m. To get a 5% return on that investment alone means generating a profit of over £50k pa - which is pretty much impossible selling newspapers and stamps.

Secondly there is the problem of getting business in the first place - with competition from near-urban supermarkets, increasing numbers of second homes unoccupied in the week etc etc It is a very difficult time for our remaining rural shop keepers.

In terms of solution there are a few options. Your idea seems to be getting someone who's fabulously wealthy to buy it on a whim. Whilst this might work, they may well not be the sort of shopkeeper you're looking for. A more practical option is to look at solutions like a community buy-out - where the local community all chip in to buy shares in the property and then let it to someone to run the business. Because you take the capital value out of the equation this can make it more tenable. Something like this. Good luck!
posted by prentiz at 2:20 AM on April 27, 2007

I think there could be rural enterprise money available for saving local jobs and businesses. Not a lot, mind you, but it's basically grant money, yours to keep once it's awarded. IIRC, you might be able to get something like £3k as matching funds. It could be a start on getting the business side propped up.

I think it's a most noble gesture to try to hold the fabric of the smaller communities together. Tesco's has done a good job of sucking a lot of the life out of smaller village shops. Who wants to lose those quirky sole proprietor shops (think of the little shop in "Local Hero") and see a country full of clone towns?

Look at places like Business In The Community. There is a scheme called "Pub is the Hub" that is meant to save rural pubs by doubling them up as post offices and mini-shops. There is probably a similar scheme available to save local shops through their Rural Action Programme. Also look at the efforts people are making to save rural post offices - all of these have a similar intent and you could probably find like-minded people and more resources there.

Call me overly optimistic - we run a shop in a very rural part of England - but there's definitely a sense that people will start taking holidays closer to home as air travel gets more expensive and people respond to environmental issues. I also think there will be more migration to the country as people increasingly turn away from expensive London. Villages are going to need their shops, so you must be able to build a business case. In our shop, we are selling a range of local products, including honey, chutneys, preserves and our own beer.

How about creating a shareholding trust scheme and raising money locally? Set up the business separate from the residential part; value them separately and look at the kind of cash flow you would need to keep the shop afloat. Sell or rent the house out and concentrate on the shop. You won't get very far if you look at the asking price as just a business.

I would hope you wouldn't have to look beyond the UK to find your solution. This is, after all, a nation of shopkeepers.
posted by sagwalla at 2:24 AM on April 27, 2007

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