End of an era as Farleys gets set to move out of Ramsgate town after almost nine decades

Farley's is relocating

It will be the end of an era when a Ramsgate furniture shop that has been in town for almost 90 years moves to a new site.

Farleys has been based in Chatham Street since 1928 when Jim Farley rented his first shop and moved into the flat above.

But the buildings are due to be knocked down, and neighbouring Townley House renovated, to create a total of 14 apartments, nine houses and parking and landscaped gardens.

An application has been submitted by Ramsgate-based architects del Renzio & del Renzio to Thanet council as agents for work at the Chatham Street site.

It means Farleys is now moving to a temporary home in St Lawrence while boss John Farley secures a new, purpose-built site.

Where it began

The store grew over the years from that first, one-room shop to the current 20,000 square feet plus warehouse and yard.

During those nine decades Farleys has become a Ramsgate institution, a familiar sight to shoppers for decades.

In the 1950s the freeholds of the ‘shops’ were bought and the rear gardens built over to extend the sales area, still serving predominately the people of Ramsgate, with the occasional excursion to the rest of Thanet.

In the 1960s the family bought the neighbouring Townley House after it was saved from demolition by the efforts of Ramsgate Society. Unfortunately, the property had had considerable alterations over the years and was in a very dilapidated condition.

During the 1960s and 70s, a good time for retail, the building was renovated and brought back into use, as showrooms and storage. Large areas of the building were restored, the main staircase and balcony for example, mainly by the in-house maintenance team.

A changing world

But by the millennium things were changing in the world of retail.

John said: “The decision to move was reached with our usual lack of urgency or panic, but has undoubtedly been influenced by the acceleration of the changes to the way people now shop. In the very early days most of the business was done with pedestrians passing by on their way to the town, we were one of at least four house furnishers in the town.

“However, by the turn of the century distinct changes were happening in retail, and the shape of the economy, both local and national. Ramsgate Borough Council had gone and Thanet District Council appeared, apparently with the intent of hastening the decline of the ‘three towns’ centres and having one Thanet town centre at Westwood.

“With the advent of the privatised town centre, and the huge rentals charged by out of town landlords, this has restricted the potential tenants to the national chains with their different business model of low paid local jobs whilst centralising the better jobs at distant head offices.

“Small local business like ourselves simply cannot afford these rental levels. Add to this the impact of internet shopping, which has steadily grown over the last couple of decades, with ‘showrooming’ actively encouraged by both the internet companies and various media money saving experts.

“To this list we must add the various economic recessions the country has endured. We still have not recovered from the ‘crash’ of 2007, primarily the bankers and governments fault, and today we have entered the self-imposed uncertainty and depression of last year’s referendum.”

Changing with the times

Farleys has weathered the storm and continues to trade and prosper. The family business purchased the old East Kent Engineering works, themselves a victim of economic change, and rationalised storage and warehousing. Now the firm needs to take a further step and relocate.

Townley House via Michael’s Bookshop

John said: “We now occupy a large, isolated, rambling site. It has plenty of character but is in a secondary position with virtually no parking, on a busy road, but with a huge increase in the business rates!

“After due deliberation, we decided that the model of business, quality of service and product that Farleys offer still has a market so the decision was made we must move and get better.

“We must not discount the past, nor forget the good times, but it is indeed foolish to try to return to a lost and failed world.

“So we intend to move forward, maximizing the opportunities that such things as the internet give us.

A new home

“We have secured a temporary new home in St Lawrence, ironically between Tesco and Domino Pizza, not natural bed fellows! Even these tried and tested businesses are finding the pressure of the Aldis and Papa Johns an ongoing challenge.

“Going forward we have a smaller, more focused business in a modern purpose-built unit. To this end we are, that is all the staff, looking at what Farleys do and offer best.

“It all sounds very trite; friendly, polite, knowledgeable staff, good value, good quality products, the level of service which is just not available elsewhere in the area, backed up by the best of new technology and, most importantly, enthusiasm for the type of business that we are.

“We are able to offer a complete range of house furnishings, flooring, beds, upholstery, fitted bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms. Couple this to our installation and fitting service, it has not always been perfect but we have worked hard at it and are now pretty good!

“We are actively negotiating for a new purpose-built freehold store, but in the meantime Farleys will continue to offer all those services which have made our reputation, but with the bonus of free designated parking directly adjacent to the new shop.”

Kitchen sales will move to Palm Bay.

A fixed date for the move has not yet been set but is expected to take place around the end of August.