'Everyone is a little bit of a hippy': Spiritual shop marks 50th birthday
- Credit: Neil Didsbury
He opened it way back in 1971. And, as Martin Wyatt celebrated 50 years of Head in the Clouds, he vowed: "It'll be here for at least another 50 years."
Mr Wyatt opened Head in the Clouds in 13, Pottergate - and it's still trading in the same premises.
He bought the 18th century premises, which has its own chapel in the basement, in 1982, meaning he could save on paying out monthly business rent.
The store went from strength to strength over the decades and Mr Wyatt, who named the store after a line from a Beatles song, said coronavirus had seen sales increase.
Items such as healing crystals and joss sticks were in demand, he said, because people had more time in Covid to reflect on life and were looking for ways to help their feeling of wellbeing.
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But he said it was not about sales. He said Head in the Clouds was a "community shop" with staff happy to talk to anyone who contacted them with no need to buy anything.
"In 1971 when I started, aged 23, everyone was a hippy and I do believe there's a hippy inside all of us," said Mr Wyatt, who still likes to be hands-on in the shop, arranging some of the displays.
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He started the shop creating a niche market selling kaftans which he sourced from walking around London's Petticoat Lane.
"I just walked around and spoke to the gentlemen who became my suppliers of kaftans and hooded dresses as well as bedspreads and we became Norwich's market leader in these."
Later he expanded the stock to include other clothes, candles, jewellery and joss sticks, buying from wholesalers in India and Nepal. Having worked for Oxfam and other charities, ensuring fair trade has always been a top priority.
In fact, Mr Wyatt has aided St Gregory's Centre for the Arts for the past 30 years as well as conducting its resident orchestra.
"I was very green but things were easier in the 1970s, costs were lower and regulations weren't so tight. In 1982 I bought the premises, if I hadn't I don't think we would have survived.
"Costs are so high for businesses now, rents especially which are a killer, and it's very difficult to find a niche market. We have always tried to have a specific catchment, if you veer away from that, things don't sell.
"However, people really want something different and with some of the big shops closing because of coronavirus, I do think the independents have more options."
Born and raised in Norwich, Mr Wyatt went on to learn the art of bookkeeping so he could manage the shop's finances and despite the temptation to expand and open more branches, resisted because he wanted to retain the unique offering of one special shop.
Recently, the shop has attracted new customers because of coronavirus. "Crystals are a big line for us now, people want quiet and time to reflect and something to help mindfulness. Joss sticks have also always been extremely popular.
"We are looking forward to reopening from April 12 because when people come into Head in the Clouds they feel warmth, support and friendliness. We have had 50 years of happiness and the shop is laid out very much like it was in the 1970s with many of the same lines.
"I'm very proud that we are a small shop but we can still keep five or six people, our staff, in bread and butter. We aren't materialistic but we like being at peace.
"I never want Head in the Clouds to stop, it will carry on for at least another 50 years or more. If you have an appreciation of the spiritual, things don't go badly wrong."