Asian handicraft store moves to 'bigger and brighter' spot round the corner
- Credit: Danielle Booden
The owner of an Asian-inspired handicraft and clothing store in Norwich has upped and moved round the corner - citing high rents and an "opportunity which couldn't be ignored" as driving forces.
Bob Paton, 53, opened up his first Natural East store - then People Tree - in Holt in 1996, selling "whatever he found interesting" on his travels around Asia.
Another one followed in Wells in 2000, with the Norwich branch making the final portfolio addition 11 years ago.
But last Tuesday marked the end of an area as the the family-run business left its previous Back of the Inns store near Castle Mall behind and opened a "bigger and brighter" one on Davey Place.
Now wedged between City Bookshop and the soon-to-be Rainbow Wholefoods store, Mr Paton reckons the atmosphere provided by "long-standing independent businesses" will give the street a bustling vibe and attract new customers.
He said: "We had a breaking clause come up in our contract, and saw the move as an opportunity we couldn't ignore.
"We had no leeway with rent from our landlord during the pandemic and it was really stifling us. So when we saw this other site come up for sale it was a no-brainer.
"It was a chance to cut our overheads by half by actually buying our own place.
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"So really, though the pandemic was difficult for us and a lot of our money went straight towards rent, everything turned out for the better - because this bigger and brighter shop is the result of that."
Natural East sales assistant Judith Donaldson, 52, said: "People are loving our new shop. It's so light and spacious that they're actually discovering the full extent of what we sell for the first time.
"When we closed the other one we had so many people panicking that we'd shut permanently instead of just relocating. That was really nice, to know just how valued we are."
Everything in the shop - from shoes and accessories to rugs - is bought in person from independent suppliers and manufacturers in India, Indonesia and Thailand.
Mr Paton said: "I'm hoping to get a business visa soon so I can head to Indonesia and make some more purchases, but we've got enough to keep the shop stocked in the meantime.
"I think that's what makes our store so special - everything we sell is personal to me and my family."