After almost five decades of selling Caribbean food in Nottingham, family business Mitchell's Supermarket on Alfreton Road is up for sale. We spoke to owner Colin Mitchell about his decision to sell Mitchell’s Supermarket, and what this will mean for the local community...
Colin’s family had shops for generations. His grandmother's shop in Jamaica sold produce from his grandfather's farm, and this legacy influenced Colin’s own interest in business.
Colin’s father, Mr Mitchell (senior) opened his first Caribbean food shop in 1959 on Willoughby Street, Lenton. Around 1970, the shop was moved to Union Road but was later knocked down because of regeneration.
Around 1973, Mr Mitchell decided to sell his produce out the back of an old Sunblest van, adapted to hold the myriad of Caribbean food items. It wasn’t long before this became a success - the community was already confident in the customer care he'd previously shown.
Mr Mitchell took time to learn his customers' shift patterns and he would make himself available by working around them. Colin's contribution to the family business happened after school, "I would jump onto my father's van... outside Cottesmore School. It was my job in the evening."
We spoke to Colin to discuss how the shop has evolved, his relationship with his customers, and his plans for the future.
When did the current shop open?
Ilkeston Road came onto the market in 1974, me and my father opened that one together. I worked for him for a few months there. One day he asked me to find out how much stock we had. I estimated the amount, and he split the stock between the two of us and said, “You’re on your own”. He had given me half as a head start for my own business. That was 175 Alfreton Road - my first independent shop. I called it Pioneer Store because I was a new man coming out.
Did your father help you set up?
Yes. My first thought was, how would I find the money to pay my father for the stock? He told me not to worry, take a year, take two years… Within six months, I'd paid him back. Working for someone and working for yourself are two different things. When you work with someone, you don't see an end goal. So when he gave me that incentive, instead of closing the shop at 4pm, I was there till 7pm. I was there in the morning at 8am instead of 9am. So, in six months, I was debt-free and I kept that shop until 1990.
Independence, the community spirit, and the banter with the customers is second to none.
Tell us about the move to the current site on Alfreton Road?
There was a rundown children's shop, 185 Alfreton Road. I approached the owner and asked him what his plans were for the future. He was trying to sell the lease, so I bought it and paid rent to the landlord for twelve months. He owned the block. Then, two nearby properties became empty, so I told him I would vacate mine unless I could buy it.
He agreed to sell it. This was the only property out of the whole block he didn't own. With my wife's help, we could put together a deposit for the bank and had a loan from the bank to cover the rest of it. Fifteen years later… the property became ours.
What made you join the family business?
When I was at school, black children weren't treated equally. I went to the Job Centre with my father to see what was available. The woman behind the counter told me that the only job she could offer me was sorting out scrap metal in a scrap yard.
My dad was fuming, and we walked out. That's when we started the mobile van. He said we would do something together better than what they're offering. That fuelled me. Back then, teachers would tell black children that they had no future. My class was told we wouldn't achieve anything in life, but it inspired me to be stronger and prove them wrong. I took a negative and made it into a positive.
When you put the shop up for sale recently, what was the response from the community?
There was a rumour that the shop was up for sale. It created a panic within the community.
It still is. I get customers coming in, saying they heard about it and asking where they will go. Some literally started crying. Especially the elderly customers. It breaks my heart, but I can't go on forever.
The day I decided to put the property on the market was one of the worst days. It was kind of heart breaking. My father’s advice was don’t get old in this trade, it’ll break you…
I've promised that it will stay in the black community. I won't be tempted by money for it to be in any other.
How will you guarantee this is what's going to happen?
I'm giving the community up to two years to approach me, but they must fit the criteria. It's being advertised nationwide.
Have you had a lot of interest?
There has been a lot of interest. The business has been going for so long - 48 years. It's well-established and has a fantastic customer base - that is something that is appealing to anyone who is coming into the business.
What has been the best thing about owning Mitchell’s?
Independence, the community spirit, and the banter with the customers is second to none. You know the customers you can run jokes with to a certain level, and others that you can go beyond. You get feedback from each customer, and the banter becomes a part of the day, a part of the routine. When you see someone come in through the door, you know what the banter will be about, whether it's sports, or what they got up to the night before. Some release tension as soon as they enter the store. They're at home. It's a family.
Some customers might come in sad. Nine times out of ten, they leave the shop smiling and know they're talking to someone who will not take what they say out of the shop. That trust is built over years.
What will you miss the most when you do leave?
The banter with the customers. They make a twelve-hour day feel like a three-hour day. It's like being at home.
What would your father say about your achievement regarding the shop?
He would congratulate me on going through the recessions and keeping my suppliers happy and on my side. Keeping your suppliers on board is essential. When times are hard, they support you. There's trust. During the pandemic, when things were short, our suppliers would come to the back door when there were queues at the front door. They kept us stocked up.
As we chatted with Colin, he was clearly moved, especially when talking about his customers. Mitchell’s has been his life for decades and it's the customers he will miss the most. He shared that he is grateful to his wife and family, who have been his backbone and have kept him going.
He plans to continue the Mitchell brand but in a different way, giving him more time to travel and have new adventures. We wish Colin and his family well.
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