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Beloved hardware shop Thorpes toasts 75 years on Gosforth High Street

By Tom Keighley

The owners of highly-regarded independent hardware shop Thorpes are celebrating 75 years of the name on Gosforth High Street.

Mike Ryans, a former criminal negligence solicitor and his father-in-law, Fred Wilson, also a former lawyer, bought the shop from retiring brothers Colin and Peter Thorpe four-and-half years ago.

Since taking over the Gosforth business from the Thorpes, the pair – who were long-time customers of the shop before they decided to buy it – said that business has been good, particularly thanks to the lockdown DIY and home improvement boom, and despite the threat from online retailers such as Amazon.

Read more: North East seed business hoping for growth after supermarket deal

Mr Ryans, 61, who was formerly a partner in a law firm, said the decision to buy Thorpes started out as an idle thought one evening in 2017, when the business was being marketed, before taking on a life of its own. Encouraged by his in-laws, Mr Ryans sought information about Thorpes before making an offer for the business.

He said: “There were other parties interested in it and – this might be over egging the pudding a bit – there was a bit of a bidding war. We were invited one Sunday to meet Colin and Peter Thorpe and we had a tour around the shop, they bought up bacon sandwiches and they seemed to be very interested in what we were proposing.

“I think we were the preferred bidder because we presented outrelves as a longstanding family in Gosforth. There’s my father-in-law, me and my two boys – the idea being that possibly one or both would be interested in running the business or at least being involved in it.”

Having taken on the business, including two long-serving staff members, Mr Ryans, who had no previous retail experience, said it was like being “thrown in at the deep end” but that he has since thrived in his new role, which is free of the targets he faced in his previous career.

The shop now employs five people and Mr Ryans says his driving ambition is to serve the community.

He added: “Thorpes is an institution and it’s got longstanding customers that we want to keep coming back. The staff have a fantastic rapport with customers and we never embarrass anyone – we have a sign up that says ‘there’s no such thing as a stupid question’. People come in with a problem and we suggest things that might work.”

In the time since he took over the business, Mr Ryans said one of the most unusual customer enquiries came from a man wanting a solution to stop his shoes digging up the ice when he was doing curling. He was sent away with some fibre washers intended for a tap, but attached to his shoes solved the problem.

Under Mr Ryans’ management Thorpes has retained its distinctive, old-fashioned facia and “cluttered” windows bursting with products, and has added new services such as watch strap and electronic key fob repairs.

Mr Ryans added: “There are businesses on the High Street that come and go – we’re acutely aware of that. In particular the banks have been going and people are under pressure. People come in and ask us: ‘You’re not going to close, are you?’ People feel relieved that Thorpes is there. There’s a certain smell about the place that can invoke memories of childhood.”

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