Norwich toy shop marks 25 years in business

A quarter of a century on, and one of Norwich's best-loved family run toy stores is full steam ahead and well on track for the future.

Great Eastern Toys and Models, on Plumstead Road, marked 25 years of keeping model railway enthusiasts happy yesterday with a birthday bonanza involving balloons, goodie bags and 25pc off the thousands of goods on offer.

Helen Hockey, 35, runs the store with her brother Robert, 29, and sister Anne, 37, and said that they were overwhlemed by the turnout for their celebrations.

'We're really excited by it and there was a queue at the door when we opened. The atmosphere has been electric today and really busy, but it's not all about spending money, it's also a case of come in and celebrate with us, grab some tea and some cake and just enjoy the occasion.'

The store, which also sells toys including Playmobil, was launched as a hobby by the trio's father Robert, who had is own road haulage business.

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A life-long model railway enthusiast, his family got used to seeing yards and yards of track snaking their way through the house, and his children quickly caught the bug themselves.

Helen, who lives in Saxlingham Nethergate, recalled: 'He had a room dedicated to it and we all used to play with the models and come in and help him in the shop on Saturdays. He always said it was a novelty to have girls in a model railway store.'

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Soon the business expanded, with an extension increasing the size of the store from one floor to three, and when their father died in 2006, there was no question in the minds of his family about who was going to run the business.

Since taking over, the three of them welcome in enthusiasts ranging from five to 95-years- old, with many having been customers since the very beginning. And after being flooded two years ago due to a broken pipe, they turned what could have been disaster into triumph by redecorating and bringing the store up to date.

'It's lovely to work with and for your family,' said the mother-of-three, who deals with the accounts and paperwork. 'Of course we've had a few cross words over the years, but we all get on and we've never wanted to do anything else. We hope to be here for the next 25 years, when we're old and grey.'

Those dropping into the store will find everything from 99p Lego figures through to a �500 Hornby steam powered train set. Elsewhere in the store, those who like things high-tech should be kept happy by model trains with sound chips that allow them to make realistic noises.

Helen's brother Robert, of Lingwood, added that he was 'really pleased' with how everything was going and said that although they had all moved apart and were living their own lives 'working in the shop together lets us meet up and have a good chat.

'We just want to keep on going and make sure everyone gets the same good service,' he said. 'We're not here to be millionaires and we're friends with many of our customers.'

Helen added that she hoped the store had provided some comfort in an uncertain world.

'We've been going through some difficult times as a country, but I like to think that even with all the gloom, people's hobbies give them a bit of joy in the dark times,' she said.

Is your shop set to celebrate a big landmark? Contact reporter John Owens on 01603 772439.

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