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New lease of life for Bixter Shop

Kirsten and Steven Johnston, along with Steven's mother Margaret, take a well-earned breather outside the newly reopened Bixter Shop. Photo: Hans Marter/Shetnews.

THE BIXTER Shop, a fixture on Shetland’s West Side for over a century, was a hive of activity as it reopened under new ownership on Saturday.

Previously run for many years by Marlene and Crichton Williamson, the shop is now in the hands of couple Steven and Kristen Johnston, who recently built a house nearby for their young family.

They agreed a deal to buy the shop from the Williamsons a few months ago and began stripping out the premises’ internal fittings at the start of February.

It took around four weeks of hard graft to strip the building back to its original shell – rectifying some structural issues, installing new insulation, plasterboard, heating system and freezers – before the new owners could welcome shoppers back over the threshold this weekend.

“We decided the best way was just to refit it from scratch,” Steven explained. “It’s not a listed building, but it’s a historic building. They built it, dug it out by hand.

“When we went in and took it back to the original structure, and seeing the workmanship that went in… nobody would have seen that in a hundred years. Nobody will probably see that again – I certainly shouldn’t see it again!”

How the hollowed out shop looked in early February.

Steven, who also runs a successful plumbing business, said his overwhelming feeling now most of the work is complete was relief.

“When you start into something like this you know it’s going to be a lot of hours,” he said.

“I’m really satisfied with how it’s come. I thought it shined up nice, basically, and I’m happy to go back to the plumbing for a while and let my mother get on with the running of the shop day-to-day. And I’ll just come in and interfere!”

He has some big plans, not least moving into selling a range of hardware – something he envisages might even culminate in the creation of a “West Side Building Centre”.

“The site is surprisingly large, so there’s a lot of scope,” he said. “The big one for me is to get the hardware going. That’s kind of my baby.”

Steven’s mother Margaret will work in the shop alongside another full time staff member and a few part-timers. If the hardware business takes off that could create another job.

The Williamsons had been trying to sell up for a considerable time. Some feared the Bixter Shop might cease trading altogether before the Johnstons decided to take the business on.

Now there exists a palpable sense of enthusiasm locally for what the new owners are striving to achieve.

The shop, a staging post for those heading further out into the west mainland, was bustling with smiling, enthusiastic and friendly customers on Saturday afternoon.

Nearly 800 people have “liked” the store’s new Facebook page in the past few weeks.

The new-look shop: the end product of four weeks' hard work.

Concerns have been raised by some rural shops about the potential damage Tesco’s plans for an isles-wide home delivery service might cause.

While accepting that some grocery-only small retailers may have legitimate fears, it’s not something Steven believes will imperil the Bixter Shop’s future.

“I can’t say it concerns me in the slightest,” he said. “It won’t affect our business plan. Plus we’re diversifying the business – we have the fuel as well, which makes a big difference.”

He believes Bixter is far enough away – 20-25 minutes by car – from Lerwick, coupled with the upward trajectory of fuel prices, to ensure folk looking to stock up on a few items will continue shopping locally.

“That’s why we’ve invested so much time and money, because local shops certainly have a future if folk are willing to put in the effort,” Steven added.