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Outlet’s impending closure means charity can no longer begin at home

Age Uk shop, Broomhill: Manager Chris Roberts (left) and customer Trevor Wheeler compare musical tastes

Age Uk shop, Broomhill: Manager Chris Roberts (left) and customer Trevor Wheeler compare musical tastes

Why poets, professors, doctors and journalists are speaking out against the decision to axe one of Sheffield’s favourite charity shops

“No! No! No!” said one customer of the Age UK book and record shop at Broomhill.

“A scandal,” said an angry doctor. “Why not take my limbs too?”

“The shop must stay open as an example of what can work, and work well.”

Reaction to the impending closure of the shop is detailed in a customer comments book, signed by local poets, professors, doctors, journalists and others. Manager Chris Roberts and deputy manager Theresa Repper appears resigned, however.

“Charity shops have to make money for the charity,” said Chris. “That’s what we’re here for.”

After making a small profit in 2013, it became clear that the shop was not covering its costs in 2014, said Chris.

Following a consultation period with the national charity’s office, it was decided that takings were not high enough to justify renewal of the shop lease, and after 15 years as a book and record retailer (and longer as a Help the Aged charity shop) the store will close in January.

Theresa noted that the shop is a social centre for local people with an interest in books and music, many of them retired, who value the enthusiastic knowledge of the store manager, who was initially brought in to turn the shop around when it was losing money as standard clothes-selling charity shop in 1999.

“We turned it round instantly, by turning it into a bookshop and doubling the takings,” said Chris. “It was a vibrant place for a while. At that time Amazon and eBay were in their infancy, and the Kindle wasn’t around.”

Modern consumers are used to changing their preferences very quickly, however. “A year ago, people would buy a couple of battered paperbacks to take on a holiday,” said Theresa. “Now they’ll take a Kindle and save on their baggage allowance.”

The shop has specialised in selling a particular kind of product to an enthusiastic, but fairly small, range of customers.

“There are four people who buy 78 records in Sheffield, and they all come here,” said Chris.

“Most charity shops have the same range of books: Da-Vinci Code, Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey,” said Theresa. “But we make a point of putting out other things, although I keep some copies of Twilight upstairs in case anyone asks.” A keen reader arrived with several large bags of donations including The Erotic Review, Noam Chomsky, Will Self and an account of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. “I’m book de-toxing,” she said.

Chris reckoned the bags contained about £200 worth of merchandise, and Noam Chomsky was immediately despatched to the window display.

The main problem, said Chris, is Broomhill. “Passing trade has disappeared in Broomhill.” He listed the movement of student residences, the absence of a big supermarket and the reluctance of drivers to pay parking charges as key factors in these changes. He fears further shop closures.

Add to that the digital world of music and literature and the future for shops like Age UK Broomhill is challenging, at best. The consultation looked at city centre locations but concluded that rates and rents would be “commercial suicide”, said Chris. The shop began to fill with donors, children, browsers and a few buyers. A man with a non-designer beard bought a Nelson Uniform edition of Prester John by John Buchan.

“I’ve nearly got the set now,” he said happily.

Regular customer Trevor Wheeler said: “I come in when I need a bit of verbal abuse.”

“Friendly banter,” corrected Chris before entering a discussion about the relative merits of hip hop and experimental jazz.

“I enjoy the banter, you can chat with professors or anyone about religion, politics, whatever, and Chris is the fount of all knowledge,” said Trevor. “This place is a little bit different. We’re all going to miss it.”

And he left to check the parking meter, without buying anything on this occasion.

Customers and locals who want to make their feelings known are welcome to do so, said Chris and Theresa, but in the meantime Chris suggested Sheffield take advantage of the shop’s last few months.

“Enjoy us while we’re here.”

 

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