With its farmhouse shutters, Yorkshire Stone walls, and the surrounding pretty flowers, there couldn’t be a more aptly named store than The Postcard Café & Stores. It really does look like its been plucked straight out of an Emmerdale set.
A brightly painted chalkboard on the edge of the railings boasts a tempting array of local produce, from free-range barn eggs and fresh bread and milk, to locally produced ice cream, fudge and honey.
Inside, the tiny 300sq ft store is crammed with more local goodies. There’s row upon row of preserves, from Hot Tomato, Garlic & Chilli Relish, to Ploughman’s Pickle and Chilli Mango Chutney. Grandma Wild’s Yorkshire biscuits and flapjacks are piled high, and there’s an assortment of local handmade soaps arranged on the counter.
Old-fashioned wooden shelving accommodates glass jars filled with a delightful array of jelly babies, humbugs and éclairs, to name but a few. And for those who can’t decide what they want from the colourful assortment, there are prepacked options on the counter, too.
Much of the produce is displayed in wicker baskets, which adds to the shop’s olde worlde charm. And in another nod to yesteryear, calendars entitled Bygone Bradfield are on sale, displaying black and white photos of the village.
“We produce the local calendar with photos from a local archivist,” explains owner Steve Dennis. “We also have greetings cards with paintings of local scenery, which a customer designs, and another lady makes cards from photos of the local area.”
The Postcard Café & Stores, Low Bradfield, Yorkshire Size: 300sq ft Opening hours: 8am-6pm Mon-Sat, 9am-5pm Sunday Additional services: café, post office, book exchange
Bearing in mind Steve’s keenness to embrace the local area, you could easily be forgiven for thinking he is a local. Not so he actually lived in Dorking, Surrey, for 30 years before moving to Low Bradfield in the summer of 2009.
In fact, he didn’t even have any retailing experience before taking on the store. “I’ve been sales director at a number of firms and most recently I was head of business development at the British Institute of Innkeeping,” says Steve. “But I got made redundant and at my age I found it difficult to find work. Also, I didn’t like the politics of the big businesses I’d dealt with, so I decided to be my own boss.”
Eager to live in a village environment, he upped sticks and headed north. “The day we moved in we had a furniture van ready to go, but the current owners hadn’t even cleaned out the kitchen cupboards!” says Steve. “It was really chaotic, but we soon got into the swing of things.”
He explains that the biggest challenge was not having anyone to delegate to. “The difficulty of being an independent is that if you want something done then you can’t just click your fingers,” he explains. “But I enjoy the job, and it’s really the customers who make it worthwhile.”
The shop is situated near a number of walking routes so many customers are tourists on walking holidays, who lap up the local produce. But there are also a number of locals who frequent the store. “We have a lady called Audrey who always comes in for a cup of tea and a chat. And one of our regulars, David, works for a local car firm, so I call him Dodgy Dave!” grins Steve. “It’s all about knowing how far to go with people having a laugh, but not going over the top.”
He has also made a real effort to integrate himself into the community, even taking on the running of a local walking group on top of his retailing responsibilities. “I am the chair of Bradfield’s Walkers Are Welcome,” beams Steve, proudly producing the group’s latest leaflets, which are on display. “We produce booklets and guides with walking routes and also have a Walkers Are Welcome sticker in our shop window. It means we’re not going to throw a walker out because they’ve got muddy boots on,” says Steve. “They’ll be made welcome.”
And it’s not just walking groups that are welcome the shop entertains all manner of local groups. “This is the village hub,” states Steve. “People come here for business meetings as it’s a relaxed environment. We also have a knitters’ group here on Tuesdays. They like to have a pot of tea and a good natter over their knitting.” The shop also houses a book exchange for avid readers, which encourages increased footfall.
Another quirky draw is the fully functioning red phone box outside the shopfront. “There’s no mobile phone reception here, so people who are visiting for weddings or on weekends away tend to use it from time to time,” explains Steve.
In his 18 months as a retailer, he has already made his mark on the store and its customers, and his enthusiasm shows no sign of slowing. “We’re in the middle of decorating right now. Eventually, we’re hoping to get some local art on the walls, but at the moment we’re just painting,” he says. “We’ve only painted one wall so far it’s tricky because of the limited space.”
The store itself may be small, but Steve’s willingness to embrace local life, both inside and out of the store, has certainly made a huge impact.