A hardware and garden shop that has been a fixture of Kings Heath, Birmingham, for 75 years has been saved from closure after customers formed a co-operative to buy the business.
The area’s much loved York Supplies, the oldest shop in the area, would have been sold to property developers, but will now be owned by the local community.
Local residents responded in droves to a call to invest in the business, raising £350,000 in just six weeks – the first time in England that a hardware shop has been saved in this way.
A community share offer inviting local residents to invest in the business was fully subscribed within weeks. Matching funds from the government have enabled the group to move quickly to begin the purchase.
York Supplies’ popular current owners, Jon and Jean Jaffa, decided to retire last year after 35 years, and put the business up for sale. The only interest was from property developers and it seemed the shop, which has served locals and craftspeople in south Birmingham for 75 years, would be lost.
Dismayed customers turned out in force to a public meeting a year ago and decided to work together to save the business. After setting up the York Supplies Action Group, they received approval from the Financial Conduct Authority to establish a community benefit society, called York Supplies Community Society Ltd. This is a kind of co-operative, in which profits must be used for community purposes. Jon and Jean Jaffa, keen to support the project, paused the sale of the business to give the community time to raise the funds needed.
The co-op faced a steep hill to climb, needing more than £600,000 to purchase the business and premises. A community share offer was launched in August to give local residents a chance to invest and become members of the society. The share offer was launched with events hosted by West Midlands mayor Andy Street and Tahir Ali MP.
Volunteers staffed information stalls at local farmersmarkets and pushed leaflets through doors across the area.
The society’s target of £350,000 was reached in the first six weeks and the share offer had to be closed without an extension. Individual investments, ranging from £100 to £20,000, flowed in from local people and former Kings Heath residents further afield. Demand was so high that although the share offer was fully subscribed, the society had to allow a short extra period to give people who were disappointed to miss the deadline a chance to invest the minimum amount only to become members.
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities awarded the maximum of £250,000 matching funding and £50,000 support for the launch of the business through the Community Ownership Fund – ensuring the future of York Supplies.
York Supplies, in Waterloo Road, Kings Heath, was founded in 1947 and has only had three sets of owners. It has a great history. Established just after World War II, at one time it was also a manufacturer and a major exporter to the United States. Former customers include the Beatles, who were playing in a local dance hall across the road in the early days of the career. The business later moved further up the road and parts of the current premises date back to 1850.
Naomi Standen, the group’s chair, said: “We always believed there was a lot of love for York Supplies in the community. We proved this when we asked the community to invest. We were astounded and delighted by the level of support. Now York Supplies will be owned by the community and run for the community”.
York Supplies will continue to be run in its familiar form. Once firmly established, any profits will be ploughed back into community projects that fit with the purposes of the business, such as teaching people basic DIY, or teaching children and young people how to grow things.
York Supplies Community Society committee member Richard Bickle said: “I believe a similar model could be used to save other businesses and community assets under threat in Birmingham and beyond.”
Vice-chair, Birgit Kehrer, who runs another community business, ChangeKitchen CIC, said: “I was personally very moved by the response from the local community. Kings Heath is not the wealthiest area of the city and has areas of real deprivation. From people on a pension to local celebrities, it’s clear to me that the community was determined not to lose this much-loved business.”
There’s growing interest in what the group has achieved and they have been asked to organise a seminar to share their learning with other groups.
The purchase of the business and premises is now underway and the group expects to be owning and running the business early in the New Year.
Retiring owner Jon Jaffa said: “My wife Jean and I have owned York Supplies for 35 years. We are thrilled that York Supplies has been saved for another generation, and that our work will continue. York Supplies has always been a central part of the Kings Heath community.”