Video: End of an era as family-run Norwich furniture shop to close after 93 years
11:27 21 March 2014
copyright: Archant 2014
A family-run furniture shop which traded through the Second World War will close its doors for good next month.
MF Reeve, in Magdalen Street, Norwich, took delivery of sofas by horse and cart when it was founded in 1921 by May Florence Reeve.
Her grandson, Nigel Reeve, 64, is the current chairman of the company but he said his sons had their own ambitions and he wanted them to be happy.
Christopher, 34, is manager of a superstore in Peterborough and Robert, 32, is emigrating to wed his Australian fiancee.
Mr Reeve said he had mixed feelings about calling time on a business built up over three generations, but took comfort in warm words from customers with fond memories of the shop.
“If you put your heart and soul into a business you feel guilty about leaving,” he explained. “A lot of people have come in and thanked me for the last 40 years.
“I do deal a lot with elderly ladies and they know they can trust us to do what they ask.”
He said he would miss the banter with customers, and recalled the weekly payment books people used to save up with.
“Customers are proud of their books,” he said. “They don’t give them back to me.”
A family firm
MF Reeve Ltd was founded by Norwich woman May Florence Reeve in 1921.
At 6ft tall and working in what was a predominantly male trade at the time, she was a striking sight buying furniture at auctions in Exchange Street.
Her husband, Arthur, helped to run the business, but had his own career as a compositor for the Eastern Daily Press –a role involved in the printing process.
Mrs Reeve first bought 150 Magdalen Street, and when neighbouring 152 became available she took out a £4,000 Barclays loan to buy it in 1956.
It is one of the few times that the company borrowed money in its 93-year history.
She eventually handed running of the business to her children, Edna and Russell – the father of current chairman Nigel Reeve.
Over the years the company has also sold toys and offered removal services as well as furniture, offering a weekly payment book system to help people save up for bigger purchases.
The shop also used to sell toys, which were all delivered on Christmas Eve.
Mr Reeve did his apprenticeship at WJ Aldiss of Fakenham and joined the family business in 1968.
Rivals have come and gone over the years, but Mr Reeve said customer service with a personal touch kept people coming back.
He explained he would customise furniture at no extra cost – with thinner arms or a softer cushion – and match prices of out-of-town stores.
While there were difficulties when Magdalen Street became one-way, he said he kept a loyal customer base and healthy finances. “I’ve always been careful to never overstretch myself,” he said.
“In the last 50 years we never borrowed money and we just don’t get into debt for anything.”
He said he will volunteer to mend furniture at the hospital when he retires on April 25, and spend more time with wife Pamela, 61.
The building will become two shops and eight flats.