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Wednesday, 21 February 2018
THE owner of a shoe shop in Henley is retiring after nearly 25 years in the town.
Barbara Easton, 77, who runs the Duke Street store named after her, has decided to step down from the business after closing two sister shops in the last four years.
The Henley shop opened in 1992 and originally sold jewellery and shoes but more recently added clothes.
Miss Easton’s customers have included Penny Cole, an actress and the widow of George Cole, who lives near Stoke Row, and radio presenter Debbie McGee, widow of magician Paul Daniels.
Miss Easton, who lives in Barkham, near Wokingham, worked in fashion before starting her own business selling jewellery wholesale.
She sold to more than 150 shops in England and Ireland, including Country Casuals, the White Company and Long Tall Sally, from a unit in Maidenhead.
Later, she ran the business from the first floor of a shop unit in Wargrave high street before deciding to use the ground floor for retail sales.
She then took over and renamed the Midas shoe shop in Henley. Miss Easton employs six part-time staff, some of whom have been at the store for 14 years.
She said: “I think the essence of my success has been that a lot of our buying has been done in Milan and Paris.
“We have tried to find things that department stores don’t have — we didn’t want to be run of the mill. We try to keep things special and different.
“I added clothes three or four years ago so people could see how they went with the shoes.
“It was very different when I opened. I’m now one of the few self-traders left in the town and probably the longest-serving.
“Trading is very different now as an awful lot of it is online. How you can buy shoes online, I’m not sure. That’s why we launched into clothes as well.”
Miss Easton ran a shop in Wokingham from 1996 until September last year and a Marlow store from 2009 until 2013.
She said she had worked hard to build up a loyal customer base and also managed to keep the business going through two recessions. “The shops were all in nice areas and there was a good distance between each one,” she said.
“It was very tough during the recessions but we managed to come out of it still with a good name. I think when you have good labels it helps — people do appreciate a make.
“We have had a lot of famous people. Penny Cole buys a lot here, as does Debbie McGee. We’ve also had Nigel Havers and lots of other celebrities come in as well.
“We had quite a few clients from Scotland and Wales and made a beeline for the shop.
“We have a lady who comes all the way from Scotland and buys three or four pairs of shoes to keep her going for a season, then comes back in spring and autumn for more.”
Miss Easton has held regular charity events including a “wear it pink” day to raise money for a breast cancer campaign and a charity fashion show at Phyllis Court Club in 2015.
She has regularly entered the Henley summer window display competition and won it in 2013.
Miss Easton said she hadn’t considered retirement until recently but was looking forward to being able to take it easy. “I used to think there was no such word as retirement,” she said. “People used to say ‘why don’t you go and enjoy your life and do things’ but I enjoy the shop.
“I love opening packages and parcels and selling, it gives me a buzz. After I’ve retired I’ll probably do little shows and sell things in my shed!
“I’ll travel more — I have a flat in the Costa del Sol so I’ll go there more. I’ve also started playing golf and I like the game.
“I want to say thanks to everyone for supporting us all this time. It’s special to have the loyalty of all those customers.”
Miss Easton said the shop would close within a few weeks and she is currently holding a sale on everything.
She hopes the property is taken over by another independent shoe store but thinks it is more likely to go to a multinational company.
“They are the only ones who seem to be able to manage because they are so big online,” she said. “It’s a shame because at independents you can give a lovely service and make friends with your customers.
“That’s so important but, sadly, it’s going out of every town, not just Henley. It’s taking the heart out.”
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