Family-run store The Tokenhouse celebrates milestone 50 year anniversary
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Since opening in 1973, The Tokenhouse, which was named after its original location on Tokenhouse Yard, has grown from a small store selling mainly stationary and crafts to a much larger gift shop stocking everything from Jellycat stuffed animals to greeting cards and gifts for every occasion.
In its 50 years of operation, The Tokenhouse has seen three locations around Nottingham city centre, before finally finding its current home on St Peter’s Gate. The first store on Tokenhouse Yard was a small front that was approximately 15 sq ft in size.
Geoff Williams, who opened the store with his wife, Diz, after they graduated from art school, said: “We turned up from different parts of the country to go to art school and when we finished we were an item and we liked Nottingham, we enjoyed being here and had nowhere else to go.
“I had a job to get by restoring antique furniture using some of the skills I learnt being a theatre designer. It was my wife’s idea to open the store. We borrowed a little money and within a year we’d paid it back. It was amazing.”
The couple made virtually everything sold in the store, including pine furniture which Geoff would make in his spare time outside of work.
Eventually, the couple moved into a larger location on Bridlesmith Gate, which was becoming an increasingly interesting area. The couple ran two shops for a few years, with Geoff manning one and Diz in the other. They expanded twice over the years, ending up with an L-shaped shop in approximately 1981.
That is not to say everything was perfect. A series of power cuts saw the store temporarily operating by candlelight and, on one occasion, flooding saw some of their stock damaged. Despite this, the store was in operation until they had to leave in 2018, at which point they moved to their current St Peter’s Gate location.
Reminiscing on the old store, Geoff said: “It was quirky. There were steps everywhere. It was a bit lethal in terms of if you weren’t paying attention you fell over. We stayed there and it was great.
“Recessions came and went. Power cuts came and went. We had a flood once which was a bit of an issue. We just dealt with it.”
To maintain as much of the magic of the store as possible, they moved the furniture across piece by piece. Beneath the counter they found several old 5p stickers which were sold from a roll, which they saved in a brown paper bag. Geoff stated that the stickers probably ended up there when kids decided they didn’t want them after all and dropped them on the floor, before adding that they had a similar issue with marbles.
While the store’s offerings have changed throughout the years, transitioning from handmade greeting cards and pine furniture to everything from children’s toys, books and small gifts.
“We always wanted the shop to be something for different generations,” Geoff said. “We have toy things, bubbles and jokes, and then we have sensible kitchen things, gifts for particular occasions like Christenings and Weddings.
“You feel, we would like to think, that just to visit the shop and buy nothing is an entertaining thing to do. One of the things I feel now is that retail and shopping isn’t fun for the customer. You can come in here and be surprised and entertained by what you see and you may not buy today but you might think of us later.”
Geoff and Diz’s daughters, Holly and Josie, were born into the family business and have continued to help out throughout the years. While the family often worked well together, there were occasional challenges. Geoff recounted one Christmas Day where he was forced to rush to the store after someone had broken a window.
The store opened the same year Geoff and Diz got married, making this year their golden wedding anniversary. The day of the wedding was the only Saturday they closed, as everyone was at the event. It was their anniversary that made the couple realise the store had been open for as long as it had.
The couple attribute some of their success to the time at which the store was set up, acknowledging that there is a lot more funding and business sense needed to operate in a similar manner today than there was 50 years ago.
Geoff said: “I think the thing we’re realising now is it’s much harder if you were starting out as we did. We just managed - if we had a bad week we had a bad week, if we had a good week we had a good week. The problem now is you’re committed to so much higher overheads that I shudder to think how you begin now without substantial backing.”