Much-loved shopkeeper celebrates 75 years behind the counter
PUBLISHED: 08:08 09 April 2019 | UPDATED: 10:16 09 April 2019
Archant Norfolk 2014
When Sheringham shopkeeper Ron Wright turns 88 in a few weeks' time, he will also be celebrating 75 years behind the counter of his family's Station Road hardware store. KAREN BETHELL discovers the secret of his success . . .
When Mr Wright started work at the family ironmongers in Sheringham in 1944, wartime rationing was in full flow and metal was needed for munitions, so everyday items including garden tools, wood screws and safety pins would have been in short supply.
However, Mr Wright, who was then aged just 13, threw himself wholeheartedly into the business and, under his guidance, it has grown through the decades to become one of the town’s biggest, best-loved and most well-known shops.
Mr Wright, who will celebrate his 88th birthday on June 7, had a difficult start in life and, after his mother died when he was aged just six and his father remarried, he was brought up by his two aunts, who lived in Cromer.
Forced to drop out of school aged 12 after contracting rheumatic fever, he spent a year recuperating at home and, rather than return to education, joined his father serving customers in the family shop.
Opened as C A Sadler in 1897 by a property developer who arrived in the town to help build St Peter’s Church, the Station Road store had been renamed Blyth and Wright in the 1920s, when Mr Sadler sold the business to staff members Clarence Granville Wright, and Horatio John Blyth, who died in 1934.
The young Ron was joined on the shop floor by brother Richard in the 1950s and, after their father died, the pair stepped in to take over.
Originally a single shop front and one of three ironmongers in Sheringham, the store, which, in the 1950s also doubled as a funeral directors, has, over the years, sold everything from oil lamps and buckets for dry toilets, to tin baths, galvanised dustbins and even, at one time, guns.
During the 1960s and seventies, the Wrights bought two adjoining buildings and, continuing the family ethos of offering a personal service with no purchase too small – right down to a single wood screw - they expanded the business to cater for every customer, from builders, plumbers and DIY enthusiasts, to gardeners and people wanting new crockery or cookware for their homes.
After his brother retired, Mr Wright and his three sons continued to work together to take the shop from strength to strength.
However, tragedy struck the family in 2002 when middle son Andy died at the age of just 34 from a brain aneurism, with youngest son Jamie leaving a wife and a young daughter when he died suddenly aged 38 from a rare blood disorder in 2012.
But, with the support of oldest son Chris, who is now managing director of the store, Mr Wright struggled on.
“My father has always been someone who would say what he had to say and then just get on and, in the same way that we coped when we lost Andy, when Jamie died we just threw ourselves into work,” Chris said.
Staff at the shop went on to raise nearly £8,000 for Sheringham Play Park Revamp Appeal in Jamie’s memory, with Blyth and Wright also supporting other local charities and good causes including the town carnival and Sheringham Primary School.
And, while many other traditional family businesses have fallen by the wayside, Blyth and Wright has remained a firm fixture in Sheringham town centre, surviving two world wars, eight recessions and the arrival of Tesco in in 2013.
“I think the secret of what has made us prosper is that personal service,” Chris said. “It is a question of offering traditional values and traditional products while maintaining the shop as a real family business.”
Now retired, Mr Wright senior, who has lived alone since the death of his wife Bridget in 2015, was diagnosed with dementia five years ago, but still enjoys reminiscing about his early days behind the counter and occasionally pops in to catch up with customers, old and new.
He remains a familiar face around the town and even has a permanent tribute at Sheringham Museum - in the shape of a life-sized cut-out portrait welcoming visitors to the seaside venue’s second floor reproduction high street.
“I think my father has a huge amount of respect in the community and people think of him as a very genuine person,” Chris said. “He has been a wonderful father and I am very proud of what he has achieved, but also of the fact that we have managed to keep the business going as an important part of the community.”