Boss of Norfolk's 'Harrods' store dies aged 72
PUBLISHED: 11:34 20 July 2019 | UPDATED: 07:38 21 July 2019
The boss of one of Norfolk's oldest and best-loved stores has died aged 72.
Michael Baker was instrumental in shaping the Bakers & Larners department store in Holt, putting the town on the map as he did, after taking over as its boss in 1974.
Renowned for wearing a bow-tie and never one to mince his words, Mr Baker, who up until recently insisted on working on the shop floor, believed in the traditional retail values of impeccable service and a varied product range.
Such was his genuine interest in his customers, he spent a fortnight over Christmas working as a sales assistant so he could talk to people to find out what they wanted to buy from his store, which will celebrate its 250th anniversary next year.
Holt mayor and council chairman, Rodney Smith, said: "It is with great sadness that we learn of the passing of Michael Baker.
Holt owes him much. He worked tirelessly to build up and consolidate a business that has served eight kings and queens. A business that gave employment to hundreds of local people.
"Collectively he and his staff worked to the very highest standards, won many awards, and regularly raised large sums of money for many charities across the region. He will be greatly missed."
While so many retailers migrated to operating online, Mr Baker was critical of the poor service offered by those leaving the high street.
He didn't like the practice of stores starting sales before Christmas, either, and said in January: "That shows an incredible lack of intelligence, total panic and incompetence in terms of management, it is something you just don't do."
Mr Baker was also known for his politics - he was a member of North Norfolk District Council from 1981 to 2015, switching to UKIP in 2007.
Mr Baker always exuded a love for Holt and encouraged other businesses to thrive there.
He was chairman and treasurer of the Holt and District chamber of trade and commerce as well as a trustee of Holt Youth Project, a member of Holt Round Table and a former president of the North Norfolk Rotary Club.
He also contributed heavily to charities over the years, spearheading fundraising through the store.
But he started out wanting to be a farmer, before changing his career path and leaving Gresham's School to study chemical engineering at university.
During his time at Bakers and Larners, he took it from fewer than 20 staff and a turnover of £175,000 to employing more than 275 people with a turnover of in excess of £20m and customers including the Duchess of Cambridge.
Speaking in 2012, he said a benefit of wearing his bow ties was that he was remembered.
"I've been to lots of strange places and people instantly remember me, I don't want to be a sheep," he said at the time.
Mr Baker remarried in 2011 and has a stepson and a daughter.