40 years of change at St Michael’s Stores

stmichaelstoreinsnow2013Shana and I hope to celebrate ten years of running St Michael’s Stores later this year but we were by no means the first to take on the role.

The original creators of St Michael’s Store were Gordon and Jean Carpenter. In 1951 Chipping Norton Rural Council approached Mr Carpenter with the idea of building a new shop in Shipton under Wychwood. With the help of Bill Dore and Dr Gordon Scott the plan became a reality.

Mr Carpenter sold everything from wellingtons to groceries. The shelves were packed with hardware, clothing and newspapers. My husband Shaun helped Mr Carpenter in the shop and delivered newspapers in a Robin Reliant. It is thanks to the Carpenters that Shaun has his driving licence today.

In 1976 the Carpenters sold the business to Terry Wilson and his wife Julia. They made a few changes, for example selling alcohol even though there had previously been a covenant ruling out alcohol on the premises. Terry also took on the post office when the original post office on Church Street closed. This had been the oldest sub post office in England, operating from 1847. The Wilsons sold the shop to Mike Devay in 1996 and he then sold it to Mr Charig Patel around five years later.

Shana and I had been working at the Wychwood Golf Club. One day, over a cup of coffee, we both agreed that we would like to run a coffee shop. In the end it took us five years to take the leap – not for a coffee shop but to run a convenience store and post office.

We bought the lease on the shop in 2010 and, three years later, we purchased the property. When the Post Office nationally introduced a new and radical business strategy, we had to decide whether to agree to the changes they wanted or lose the post office business. In 2017, we decided to have the store extended, to include the post office, and refitted to allow for a deli (our coffee shop but without the seating!). We wanted to source as much produce locally as possible so now there’s vegetables from AMC in Brize Norton and sausages from Kelmscott; then there’s dairy products from Wychwood Fine Foods in Milton; meat from Patrick Strainge; chicken from Carterton and flour from Matthews in the village.

Our biggest seller from the deli is the big breakfast while bananas are one of the most important items in the shop. On the post office side, things have changed considerably. We now do more online transactions than we do pensions and paid postage over the counter. As many high street banks have closed, the post office now takes cash and cheque deposits and makes cash withdrawals from all the major banks.

On the 24th of November 2020 we will have been here 10 years. How fast time has gone and how things have changed and not always for the better. We had a robbery in 2019 and recently Shana was confronted by a man who decided he wanted cigarettes but did not want to pay for them! We know our regulars but unfortunately have become more suspicious of strangers so that we have made the difficult decision to start closing at 6pm during the winter months.

However we do not regret our decision to take on this business at the heart of our village. We have met a great range of local characters and made many friends. It has been hard work but we have enjoyed serving you and would like to thank you for all your support over the years and especially during the last six months.

Jacqui James

April – May 2020