What’s behind the Door

Find out more about your local shops and businesses when we go behind the door and talk to the people who own and run them. In this campaign we are finding out interesting facts about the businesses and putting names and faces to the people who they belong to.

We asked friend of Shop by the Sea, Jodi Eeles to go out and find out what she could about the wonderful businesses in Whitstable & Tankerton and this is what she came back with!

Our campaign kicks off with the lovely Lucy from Georges Mini Market in the High Street.

Photos by Deborah Caplan, Honey Bee Visions

Lucy Eason – third generation, from Saturday girl to owner.

I’m excited to go behind the door and meet the owner of the shop that my children adore when we come into Whitstable. Always guaranteed to find something for pocket money – we can never come away empty-handed.

An essential shop for impromptu trips to the seaside for buckets, spades and crabbing nets and more, George’s has been an iconic shop in Whitstable nearly 50 years, so what’s their success down to? The effervescent owner Lucy Eason, tells Shop by the Sea as we go behind the door of George’s.

Why did you choose to set up in Whitstable/Tankerton – I didn’t! George was my grandad and he chose to set up in Whitstable, but he was from Herne Bay. He set up in 1970 with one shop and now it has expanded across three frontages and is one of the largest independent units in the town. My Mum and Dad (Peter and Diana Hopkins) brought George out in the early 90s and were able to expand the business eventually into the three-shop frontage that it is today.

What do you love about your business and working here?
I came on board as a Saturday girl (probably underage at the time) with my sister, and when I was 16, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I came into the business. My dad wasn’t sure there would still be a future for independent businesses at the time, but we are still here!

Two things that we love; one is the continual new stock, with the change in seasons and the change in ranges that we stock, so when a delivery comes in, it’s like Christmas – sometimes there is a shriek of ‘who ordered this?’. We do wonder who thinks of the things that we sell! We have really great links with our suppliers and reps because we have been here so long and that helps us to find unique items. The second thing is the culture of our staff, we are really tight-knit and we look after each other.

What is special about your products?

They are fun and practical, all at the same time and a little bit
unusual and interesting, which is a massive pull into the shop. We are always here for people who decide to visit last minute and need some essentials and those who are looking for that unique card or gift.

Who inspired you? My dad is the biggest inspiration, he was the one who set me along this path. I also find women in business inspirational now that I’m running a young family and a business.

How do you take your coffee? I love a cup of tea and the drinks breaks are essential to the smooth running of George’s! (I can vouch for this as a tea run update came across the walky-talky system between staff at one point during the interview). Our test of a Saturday person used to be – could they make a good cuppa!

What do your customers say about you? Aladdin’s cave, a treasure trove and they would say there’s always something to look at.

Why do you think shopping local is important?
It is IMPERATIVE to the survival of all our independent businesses. We can’t survive as a business on our own. We need all the other independent shops on the high street to provide what makes Whitstable wonderful and what makes people come into Whitstable. They don’t come in just for one thing, but if they do, they have a plethora of other things to choose from for shopping and eating.

What has been your proudest moment or biggest achievement?
Surviving! Just surviving really this long. I’m proud of the shop and how it looks. I’m proud of our staff and how they have adapted over time as things have changed. I am also massively proud that we have finally gone online, which is very daunting. It has been a huge challenge and taken us out of our comfort zone. We have injected our character into the website, which has taken our business beyond Whitstable. The majority of the online customers don’t live here, so it is a different offering. We have had orders from Belfast, Scotland. We are doing it to compensate on the losses that are in the shop as footfall has gone down historically in all high streets. It is not detracting from the high street, it is adding to our business.

What is your biggest selling item?
We think it must be crabbing drop nets – the best entertainment money can buy across the summer!

What other shops in Whitstable or Tankerton would you recommend to your customers?
All of them! As all together they create Whitstable and Tankerton’s greatest tapestry of shops. I am particularly fond of the coronation chicken sandwiches at Tea & Times though!

Editor’s note: As usual, I didn’t come away from George’s empty handed, but instead left with a
wind-up trembling panda toy (my seven year old loves it), a grow your own panda and grow your own crystal tree – stocking fillers at the ready! Tip – Panda’s are the new unicorns!