'The end of an era' for Letchworth as Burrs shoe store set for closure

PUBLISHED: 15:23 08 January 2019

Jean Burr has decided to close the shoe store, Picture: Burrs Shoe Store

Jean Burr has decided to close the shoe store, Picture: Burrs Shoe Store

Archant

A Letchworth shoe store is set to close after trading in Leys Avenue for 56 years.

Victor Burr took over the Food Health Store in Letchworth in 1963. Picture: Burrs Shoe StoreVictor Burr took over the Food Health Store in Letchworth in 1963. Picture: Burrs Shoe Store

Burrs took over a former Health Food Store in 1963, and has been a part of the community ever since.

In 1933 Victor Burr opened his first shoe shop at RAF Henlow, with many of his customers coming from the surrounding villages and the local Air Force Camp at Henlow.

Building on this foundation, in 1963, he opened a second store in Letchworth. His daughter Jean, who now runs the store, says she will always remember opening the front door with her father on that first day.

“The storage barrels of grains and bran left over from the Health Food Store were overrunning with mice,” she said.

“It’s a scene that still remains clearly in my mind today.”

Mr Burr and his wife built up a very reputable family footwear business. They had four children – three sons and one daughter – all of whom joined the business and worked together expanding the company.

The goodwill of the business rapidly spread, with customers coming from as far afield as Scotland, Ireland and France.

Jean said: “I remember that on some busy Saturdays they had to stagger the amount of customers coming into the shop at any one time, leaving a queue at the door as the shop was full to capacity!

“It’s something I was born into and it’s going to be the end of an era for me. If I think about it too much I become quite emotional because it’s all I’ve known all my life.”

Building on their parents’ success, the children expanded the business to 11 shops, branching into Hatfield, Bedford, Royston, Biggleswade, March, Bicester, Hertford, Hoddesdon and Ware.

In the 1990s, along with the retirement of her brothers, the family decided to go their own separate ways. Jean is now the last surviving member of the Burr family still trading in footwear.

Jean feels in recent years Letchworth has experienced many changes that have been detrimental to retail in the town centre, including the one-way traffic system, widened pavements in Eastcheap and Leys Avenue, lack of on-street parking, soaring business rates, costs, online shopping and out-of-town retail parks.

“Much water has passed under the bridge since I opened with my father in 1963,” Jean added.

“I hold that as only a memory of the bustling and thriving town centre that Letchworth once was in those childhood days, the likes of which will never be seen again!”

A fixed date for the store’s closure hasn’t been set, but a closing down sale has started.

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