With its long golden beach, sparkling blue sea and miles of rugged coastal paths, the small seaside village of Borth in Mid Wales is a real mecca for campers, walkers and beach-goers.
But when local store owner Derek Edwards drove into the village on a balmy August evening in 2003, he was not greeted by the usual chocolate box scene of pastel coloured houses and laughing holidaymakers, but by the amber glow of flames and the scream of fire engines. His Nisa store had been targeted by arsonists and was burning to the ground.
By the time Derek, who lives with wife Gwenda five miles away in the neighbouring town of Aberystwyth, reached the scene, the fire had devoured the stockroom and kitchen, and was spreading rapidly to the rest of the building.
"It took four fire engines to put it out and the loss was just unbelievable," he says.
Being the Friday before the all- important August bank holiday meant the store was "stocked up to the rafters" with goods, all of which were lost in the blaze.
"It had been one of the hottest summers for years and we were geared up for a frantic three days and record sales - in the end I lost thousands of pounds," explains Derek.
"That day was without a doubt the worst of my life," he says, "but we were determined not to be beaten."
Instead, Derek purchased the house immediately next to the store, which by a stroke of chance, was on the market at the time. He set up a small temporary shop in the neighbouring campsite to "keep things ticking over", and countless months and many planning meetings later, the house and store were demolished to make way for a new "super" store a stone's throw away from the beach.
"We wanted to build something bigger and better. Something that made a real statement in Borth," he says. And he certainly got what he wanted.
At 2,500sq ft, the new split-level store, which has just completed its first year of trading, is now one of the village's most eye-catching buildings. With its sloping silver roofs and curved entrance porch, it has been built to resemble an oyster shell. It even has a pearl - a large glass atrium at the front of the store where the entrance/exit and checkouts are.
The store's interior has been designed to complement its contemporary exterior. Black stone floors and crisp white shelves flow throughout the store, and signage is in English and Welsh as an added bonus for its customers - both locals and tourists.
It offers a wide range of impulse, licensed, fresh and frozen products, as well as a large selection of seasonal and novelty goods.
Derek has also recently started stocking locally sourced foods. A range of fresh meats and sausages from a local butcher are proving popular with both locals and holidaymakers, as is a range of ales from a nearby brewery. He has also introduced a dedicated Fairtrade section which is selling "surprisingly well".
But while Derek and Gwenda managed to conquer the flames, they have another equally destructive element to contend with each day of the week: water.
"Rain is seriously bad news for us," says Derek. "Being in such a touristic area means that we are totally reliant on the weather - we live by the forecast."
The trouble, Derek says, isn't getting people to come to Borth as it's a highly popular holiday destination; it's getting them to stay there once they arrive.
"If it rains all the campers and holidaymakers leave for the day to visit other nearby towns or attractions, which is bad news for us. However, if the sun's out they stay on the beach in Borth all day and so constantly visit the store for drinks, snacks and supplies," he says.
Determined not to be beaten by the rain, Derek is in the throes of another major project which he believes could prompt flocks of people to descend on the town whatever the weather - a new gourmet restaurant situated in the impressive glass dome above the store.
"The store is in such a fantastic location with breathtaking sea views. I knew when I rebuilt it that I should incorporate something which would take advantage of that," he said.
The project is due for completion late next year, and Derek's hoping that the lure of great food and stunning views across Wales' famous Cardigan Bay could pull people into Borth, rain or shine.
Seasonality is another challenge for the husband and wife team. Borth's population triples over the warmer months thanks to the array of caravan parks, holiday homes and hotels, before nose-diving to a lowly 1,000 locals in the depths of winter.
"The key to surviving in such a seasonal area is to make the most of all the opportunities in the summer months, and to maximise efficiency in the winter. It's a constant game of adjustment, but it keeps things interesting," explains Derek.
The seasonality also puts pressure on staffing. Derek employs four full-time local teenagers throughout the year and takes on a few extra part- timers in the summer.
"All of our full-time staff are locals and I have known them for many years. They understand that it's manic in the summer, but they don't mind the extra work because they also know that I'll let them have an easier time in the winter," he says.
Derek's main problem at the moment is that most of his staff are completing their A-level exams and having to take days off work for revision. "We are having a bit of a tough time with staffing at the moment, but we all pull together. It's about teamwork; that's the real key to success in this business," he says.
"The fire was the worst thing that could ever have happened to us, but we got though it and in the end something wonderful came out of it."
And there is another star on the horizon for Derek and Gwenda. The council is currently consulting on whether to construct a massive artificial reef off the coast at Borth.
If the project gets the green light it would not only help to protect the nearby coastline, but would also provide excellent conditions for surfers who would further boost the local tourist economy.
So it looks like it could all be plain sailing - or surfing - for Derek and Gwenda for the foreseeable future.

Factfile


Store size: 2,500sq ft
Established: March 2006
Staff: Six
Total number of lines: 2,500

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