End of an era for popular Hoveton’s Apple and Pear People

A popular farm shop business which has sold local produce for 23 years will close its doors this week after the retiring owners were unable to sell it as a going concern.

Francis and Norma James, who have owned and run The Apple and Pear People, have sold the lease on their Tunstead Road, Hoveton, premises to Vantage Venture Capital Ltd, which is already based on the site. The couple have been unable to find a buyer for the enterprise.

Mr James, 63, said: 'We have been trying for two-and-a-half years to sell the business as a going concern. Several people wanted the business, but they couldn't raise the money in the current climate. But the people who have the money do not want to do the work associated with the business.'

During the 23 years the couple have run the shop, they have taken just four days' consecutive holiday to travel to the United States for their son's wedding. It was run by Mr James and his wife, who will be 60 on Friday when it closes. They also employed four part-time staff.

'When you have a small business dedicated to serving your customers that is what you have to do. We are not uncommon. If you are in retail you have to be there to look after your customers,' said Mr James.

He added that they had received an offer for the remainder of the lease which they could not turn down and the new owners had now taken over the lease and bought the freehold on the site which, he believes, will be used as offices. Their two sons, Craig and Neil, both had their own businesses and did not have the resources to take on the enterprise.

'Neither of them had the money and they saw how hard we work and did not want to commit themselves.'

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Mr James took on the lease on the shop from the Norfolk Fruit Growers cooperative in 1990 when he was made redundant. At the time one of his responsibilities was to run a shop for the cooperative.

Over the years the couple have built up the business, which turns over about �250,000 a year. They are supplied by fruit growers around Norfolk in Hunstanton, Cromer, East Ruston, Ludham, Sprowston, Blofield, Diss, Watton and Barnham Broom.

They have also diversified over recent years, selling trees, plastic barrels and whole foods supplied by companies based in Norfolk as well as preserves, chutneys and jams.

'Ninety per cent of everything we sold was either grown or came from a company based in Norfolk,' said Mr James. 'Many of our customers have been devastated and they have been asking where they can purchase some of the things that we sold. A lot of farm shops have an extensive range, but not the things we sold.'