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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
National
Danny Rigg

Traditional butcher fears closure after decades selling pies

A traditional butcher famous for his popular pies fears the cost of living crisis could mean closure.

Halloween decorations were still up when the ECHO visited Johnson's Butchers in Mill Street, Dingle, this week. Mike Cleaver, 58, drops a toy spider on the heads of unsuspecting customers, and releases a mechanical rat from under the counter, causing people to jump as it scuttles past their feet.

It's all to encourage the clientele to drop coins and notes into the tray of a zombie-looking statue in the corner by the till. They've been doing this seasonal charity fundraiser for 10 years, the last three raising money for Radio City's Cash for Kids.

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Last year, they raised more than £1,400 for the grant-giving charity which helps disadvantaged kids in Liverpool and the North West. Loyal customers regularly drop in toys and money with Mike opening a plastic shopping bag on the counter containing £95 worth of coins a woman neatly sorted by value in separate money bags.

Mike told the ECHO: "The man who delivers me the bread and the butties, he gave me £20. We get [money] bags off different people who've been saving their money."

Both Mike and his wife Esther grew up in the local area and both have worked at Johnson's for more than 40 years. They remember when the streets around it were all Victorian terraces, before being replaced by lower density houses with gardens and driveways.

Johnson's, sat at the end of a strip of shops including a newsagent and a chippy, has survived despite competition from supermarkets like Tesco. Part of this success is the rapport they've built with customers.

It's the kind of banter you wouldn't see in a chain supermarket and is testament to the bond formed between small businesses like this and the communities around them. This relationship saw them "selling out of everything" during the covid lockdowns when customers "were queuing out the door to get in", despite products being cheaper 15 minutes down the road in the Tesco Extra on Park Road.

They set themselves apart by maintaining the quality of their own pies, which include meat and potato, steak and kidney, cheese and onion and lamb balti. A teen hovered at the door, poking his head through the gap to ask for a pie before slinking away empty-handed. They'd already sold out, as they do in batches of 10 or 20 every day.

The shop once had a staff of seven but is now run by only Mike and Esther. Mike starts making 200 pies a day at 4am, opens shop an hour later, and doesn't leave until almost 5pm, on each of the six days he works a week. Mike said: "It's harder now than what it was because we put a lot longer hours in."

With prices in the UK rising at the fastest rate in 40 years, it's harder to keep their prices low enough to make convenience and quality compete with the lower prices and the wider range supermarkets can offer. Mike said: "The pies haven't gone up in year, and they went up 20p three months ago.

"They had to because the flour went up, the lard went up, the veg and potatoes and meats. Every time I phone the fella, the meat price is just going up. You are struggling. You used to put a decent margin on but you're not putting the margins on anymore. You're getting pennies back."

Johnson's Butchers is already considering cutting back on the range of stock they offer while they fear the shop's energy bill could nearly triple from £500 a month to £1,400. Mike said: "We wouldn't be able to afford that because we'd be killing ourselves working."

He added: "You'd be working and working and working, and you'll never get the money to pay the leccy. You listen to the radio and it's saying it's doubling and trebling. It's frightening."

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