What is the history of your shop?
There has been an antiques centre in Townsford Mill in Halstead since the mid-1980s, when the old Courtaulds mill finally stopped producing silk on the site. My wife and I bought the business in 2013 on a long lease, and we now have just over 80 dealers trading from the centre.
What does the shop offer?
The centre has something for every taste and pocket. Many customers combine a visit with lunch in a local restaurant or a stroll round Halstead, which is also well-known for the perennial success of its Halstead in Bloom activities.
What are the benefits of your location?
We are in the most picturesque and important historical building in Halstead. Townsford Mill is a listed wooden clapboard building, dating from 1788 and straddling the River Colne at the heart of the town.
Every year around 40,000 customers visit the centre. About half come from the local area while the remainder come from across East Anglia, London and the south-east. We also see tourists and foreign visitors from Europe, Australia and the US.
How has the internet affected the shop?
In spite of the rise in online sales, we find that customers come to the Antiques Centre as a ‘destination’ shop. There is no substitute for the chance to browse our vast array of vintage and antique items in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
Ebay just can’t compete with the experience of seeing and inspecting actual goods, nor with the pleasure of an unexpected find among the two floors of cabinets and sales units.
What are the biggest challenges of running a shop?
The same as for any small business – for example, implementing changes such as auto-enrolment of pensions and the National Living Wage, which we have no control over. The internal economy of an antiques centre is always finely balanced, requiring us to meet new costs while holding rents for dealers at affordable levels.
Given an unlimited budget, how would you change the shop?
We would need the relaxation of planning regulations to do this, but the one big change we would make would be to install a lift – the only drawback on our historic building is that it has no disabled access. However, it also means that you can think about the legions of mill workers who came before you, climbing those same stairs to work during 150 years of silk production.
Halstead Antiques Centre, Townsford Mill, The Causeway, Halstead, CO9 1ET