There’s a bit of Dunkirk spirit going on in Alvin Wilkinson’s store, Countdown in Hornsea, East Yorkshire. Alvin’s been up against it for the past few years: the inroads of the discounters, the council’s daft rules banning his outdoor fruit and veg display, the subsequent drop in takings, the council giving pensioners free bus rides to edge-of-town competition…further drop in takings. And did I mention the council? They’ve now put his rates up from £250 a month to £400, higher than they’ve ever been.
I sent him to ratings specialist Ken Batty, but nothing can be done because Alvin has now lost the one-year allowance he had last year. From next year Alvin won’t have to pay any rates (as his rateable value is £11K); he just has to get through this year.
On a turnover of something like £1,500 a week - a third of what it used to be - this won’t be easy. But he’s been there for 24 years and won’t be beaten. He sells everything from milk to mothballs, bread to bedding plants.
He puts an ad in the local paper once a month. His latest said: “Lost: small shop, last seen in Newbegin. Answers to the name of Countdown. If found please return to its rightful owner so normal service can resume.”
He has, of course, had some asking him if he’s going out of business, while others thought it was the best thing in the paper.
Alvin, who likes to wave his tea mug bearing the slogan ‘Grumpy old Git’ at his customers, says: “Make ‘em laugh. You can smile in the rain, can’t you?”