It's all change in the centre of Twyford, as postmaster and owner of the iconic Twyford stores Simon Cooper has decided to move on.

It was in October 1989 that Simon, together with his then business partner Richard Sellars, took over the running of the shop. The pair had no previous retail experience, having both been rural postmen in the Winchester area and, prior to that, “telegram boys”.

"I was the second to last telegram boy in the area," claims Simon. Disillusioned by the failure of the 1988 GPO strike, Simon and Richard were looking around for new career opportunities and scoped out the village shop in Owslebury, which was up for sale. They decided it was not viable, but the then owner of Twyford stores, Mr Merritt, heard they were looking for a retail outfit and contacted them. It wasn't long before they had purchased both the business and the freehold of the building. It was a bold and risky enterprise, as both Richard and Simon had to sell their houses and take on mortgages.

Soon after opening, they started to make the changes which have made the shop so successful to this day. The opening hours were extended (back then the shop used to close for an hour at lunchtime) and the offering was expanded. "Forget the idea of a village store, think of a more diverse London-style experience,” Simon said at the time. “We wanted to push on from the idea of a bog-standard convenience store,” adds Simon, “so we started offering things like better wines, quality organic items and unique local products.”

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The risk paid off and turnover doubled in the first year. The selection on offer turned out to be so strong that people travelled for miles to purchase the specialist items stocked. "The character of the village has completely changed over the years,” says Simon. “The population is far more affluent and less rural in character, all of which has played to our strengths.”

In 2014, Richard Sellars retired and his place was taken by Anthony Plowman, an ex-professional actor, who started working at the shop part-time and whose rôle gradually expanded, to the extent that he is now not only Simon's business partner but also his life partner. In the day-to-day running of the shop, there are no split duties; they both turn their hand to everything. Simon is the nominal postmaster and Anthony is in charge of the back office, dealing with ordering, design etc. "We deal with dozens of suppliers and share it across the board," says Simon.

The decision to move on was taken in 2019 but was postponed owing to Covid. "Those were the busiest 18 months of my career,” says Simon. "We made sure everyone was supplied with everything, never running out and doing personal deliveries to anybody who wanted it. I would be up every morning at the vegetable market at 4.30am, before queuing up at the Cash & Carry at 6am.

The sale of the business is scheduled for late April. From the ten offers they received, they selected the Patel brothers from Brighton, who have eight other stores all over the Hampshire area, including in Bishop's Waltham and Boyatt Wood. "All their shops are different and tailored to their locations,” explains Simon. “They will leave the store exactly as it is now for six months and then tweak and evolve it to their own character."

Asked about the pros and cons of running a village shop, Simon replies, "It's incredibly hard work. Personally I've always enjoyed the creative side, trying to establish what works and what doesn't. It's completely all-consuming and now I feel I need a bit more freedom and relaxation.”

In 2000, the “year of the floods”, the café in the cellar of the building opened under the name of Bean Below. After many successful years, it was sold last year to the Little Kitchen Company, who now run it as “Little Bean And Bar”. Village shops are under threat, but Simon is confident that the new tenants will take the business forward. He and Anthony retain ownership of the building in Twyford, which will continue to be used as the shop, the café and a physiotherapy business. It's the end of an era for this hard-working couple, who have made a big success out of providing services to the local community.

By Oliver Gray

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