In those early days the shop looked very different than it does now. It was about a third of the size and was entered through the door that was set about six feet in from the street. The shop consisted of the front area and then you stepped up three steps into a smaller room. Apart from a few paperback book units that we bought new (we still use them) everything else was improvised including the counter, which is still the original one that Richard built. Our till was one of those manual adding machines where you pushed buttons down and then pulled a handle each time. The shelves hardly groaned with the weight of books, as each one was able to be displayed face out because we had so few of them. Cards were in a handmade unit and there was a rack for records (LPs not 78s and of course CDs, DVDs and MP3's weren't even invented).
In the days before we opened we had to mix working on the building with seeing publishers reps. We spent half of all our money with the first rep that we saw. We were amazed at how much we had spent but the rep assured us that we had chosen wisely. Business reps seem to have a bit of a reputation and so when we saw some other reps we asked them if there were any reps to watch out for in the Christian trade. You guessed. They all warned us about the first rep we had seen. But as always, God was watching over us, and every bit of the stock that we had ordered from him sold in those next few months.
From the long hot summer of 1976 we entered a cold winter. As money was always tight there was never any surplus for luxuries and so a solitary 1kw fan heater heated the shop. There was only one of these and so when we held our weekly prayer meeting upstairs the fan heater went up with whoever led it. Those who attended this meeting week by week will remember the wooden prop holding up the ceiling in the office and the rain that dripped into a bucket. Our finances were often accompanied by times of prayer. There were a number of times when I would post a cheque to pay a supplier and then say to Marilyn that we need to sell a certain figure by the end of the day to cover it. God never failed us. There was also a time when we decided that we definitely needed a new display unit but didn't have the money for it. So in faith we wrote out the order and the cheque and I went across the road to post it (the sorting office was directly opposite then). As I came into the shop I noticed that there was an envelope by the till. You guessed, in it was exactly the amount of money we needed and yet there hadn't been anyone in the shop when we had discussed it.Those original six months that the council had promised us were soon up and there was no sign of any progress on the Phase 3 development so we were able to concentrate on developing the ministry that God had called us to.
Three Wise Men
Word slowly spread that we were open and our customer numbers grew, as did the sales. The shelves began to fill up, as did the range of books that we stocked. One of the memorable events in the first year was a visit one afternoon from a group of clergymen all dressed in black cassocks that came 'to check us out'. I think we passed the test. One of the blessings of the shop is that it isn't linked to any one church or denomination and all who have worked in the shop over the years have attended a variety of local churches. After a few years of just Marilyn and myself running the shop we felt that we needed to grow in numbers. Ever since the renovation at the start of the shop Olive Hardy had been a source of constant encouragement to us and both couples knew that she would be the right person to approach to come and join us. The only snag was that she was happily employed by Marks and Spencer. So we prayed. God always gives you the desires of your heart when they are lined up with His will and it wasn't long before Olive joined us and brought with her all the experience of working in a professional retailers.
Time To Go?
Our six months 'tenancy at will' was still going five years later but the day of reckoning finally came when we were told by the council in October 1981 that it was time to go as the shop was due to be demolished. Now that left us in a dilemma. Although we wanted to stay (and told the council that) we knew that we had signed a licence that said we would go when asked. So we prayed and left it in God's hands. If He wanted us to move then He would provide a new location for us, but if He wanted us to stay then He would have to do something special. And He did. Out of the blue one of our customers, an elderly gentleman, decided that this was one piece of Uxbridge that shouldn't be demolished. So he began to write letters to the council, the local history groups, the conservation groups, the papers and probably others too. He also got a petition going and discovered some flaws in the plans that were being presented. Even the Greater London Council were involved as some new road access plans had to be drawn for access into Charter Place but after many months of uncertainty we received the news that the plans had been changed and the building could stay. I heard the news on the same day that my wife Janice gave birth to our daughter Sarah so it was the icing on the cake.
The years now passed until the next memorable event took place. I arrived at work one day early one January to find our till on the floor behind the counter all prized open. The back door was also smashed in. I dashed upstairs but half way up I couldn't understand what had happened. It was as if I had blacked out. So I came down and then went up again but then I realised that I was disappearing into a veil of smoke and found that the upstairs of the shop was on fire. Whoever had broken in had probably got frustrated in finding nothing and piled up all the invoices and set light to them. Amazingly the damage was contained to the upstairs. Because the windows had stayed intact the fire didn't have enough oxygen and burned its way down through the floor instead. When the fire brigade arrived they told us that it had burned through several of the six-inch beams and that only the plaster remained between the two floors. If it had broken then the rush of air would have really fanned the flames. God was certainly looking after us that night. Despite the office and the hall being destroyed we were able to stay open for trading.
Local Christians came along and offered to help, some of the local Salvation Army ladies swapped their uniforms for overalls and scrubbed blackened walls, other volunteers repainted whilst the council did the structural repairs. On the morning of the fire Jan went up to the precinct to get some cleaning materials and as she stood in the queue the lady behind said to her friend 'can you smell burning'. Despite dry cleaning, her coat never did recover. For years afterward on a damp day you could smell the acrid smoke in the hallway. It was then that we discovered the small print in the insurance policy. Despite annually upgrading the policy one small section had been missed and we were a couple of thousand pounds short on the repair costs. But again without prompting the money came in and the gifts exactly balanced the loss. We no longer needed the prop in the office and the roof no longer leaked (at least on that flat roof section). Good can come from disaster and we all felt that although we wouldn't like to go through that experience again that our faith had been strengthened and we resolved to press on.
Continue reading in part three
- Next:Marching Orders