Family shop grows after shaky start
AT THE age of 15, Peter Crisp was an ironmonger's errand boy earning less than 40p a week. When he died 11 years ago aged 70, he left behind Rushden's biggest and best-known store.
It is now almost 50 years since the launch of a business which began as a modest ironmongers and gunsmiths, specialising in agricultural equipment. But it grew to dominate the High Street/Church Street corner in Rushden, selling everything from china, cookware and fancy goods to toys, lawnmowers and baby bonnets.
The success story began in 1959 when Peter and his wife Rosemary borrowed £3,000 to take over the former Fairey Bros ironmongers premises in High Street. The only other staff were two part-timers and the first year's turnover was £12,000.
Worcestershire-born Mr Crisp left school at 14 to become an apprentice ironmonger and by 1954 he was managing a store in Hereford. After four years of correspondence courses, he branched out on his own by buying Fairey Bros in Rushden but he struggled at first - one day soon after opening the shop he took the grand total of 7s 6d (about 37p) and his first Christmas Eve takings were just £90.
"The first time we took £100 on any one day was in June, 1960," he once told the Evening Telegraph. "There was a heatwave and a shortage of hosepipe and fortunately we had miles of it. That day we opened a can of beer in the back to celebrate!"
Crisp's expansion plans began in 1965 when it acquired neighbouring Fleemans chemists and by the mid-1970s, Taylors furnishers, Cooks the printers and Jim Knight's fishing tackle shop were added to the family empire. Later the former Clark's shoe factory became a new hardware department and a doctor's surgery in John Street was converted into a kitchen and bathroom studio.
The store doubled in size after a £250,000 expansion in the 1980s and Peter received national recognition in 1983 as Retailer of the Year, an award given by the Hardware Trade Journal. Ten years later the store was regional winner of the DIY Shop of the Year award run by Practical Householder Magazine. Peter prided himself on hard work and good customer service, often working a 10-hour day six days a week, even in his late 60s. He was also an active member of the town's Chamber of Trade, past president and secretary of the local Rotary Club and president of Rushden and Ferrers Tennis Club. When he died, Rosemary and daughter Julia Roberts became joint managing directors with Barry Nutter and Keith Walker as directors.
Julia, who worked as a Saturday girl at the store when she was 12, said: "It was the end of an era when dad died for both the store and the town. The store went through a dodgy period in the recession of the late 80s and early 90s but we tightened our belts and came through it."
When the store celebrated its 40th anniversary, she told the ET: "The business has survived through determination and foresight. Much of our success is down to the personal service provided by our loyal and knowledgeable staff, who are all experts in their department. It's like a family, really."