Lynne and Pete close their treasure chest for final time

March 29 2018
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THEY say where there's muck there's brass and for Lynne and Pete Mathias the saying couldn't be more true.

The shopkeepers are retiring on a high after nearly 30 years of running The Attic second-hand shop in North Street, Downend.

The emporium was known to be an Aladdin's cave of used, and sometimes new, eclectic delights but now Lynne and Pete, at the ages of 64 and 63 respectively, have decided to take life a little more easy.

The shop was started by Lynne's parents, Bob and Margaret Stevens, way back in 1969. When they retired in 1989, it was inevitable Lynne would take over as she had been working there since she was 17 and knew the business like the back of her hand.

"Dad was working at a big shoe factory in Soundwell Road and bought up all the shoes that people put in to be mended but never came back for. He also went to Bollom, the dry cleaners, and bought lots of clothes which people had put in to be dry cleaned but never bothered picking up.

"He started selling them in the shop. A pair of shoes could be bought for five shillings, which nowadays is 25p! 

"We then started selling things on commission which started when a man came in the shop and asked dad if he could sell a bike for him. Dad said, 'I will do - but I'll charge you 15 percent!' Then people started bringing things to us and everything just snowballed from there."

And it certainly did - by 1978 Bob and Margaret were shifting an average 700 items a day with Lynne and Pete going on to sell everything from cookers and mirrors to fishing rods and rowing boats, with white goods being the most popular.

The Attic also offered a house clearance service, and the couple will continue to do so from their home in Emersons Green.

Lynne said: "Sometimes people would ask us to dispose of stuff but we'd say to them we would try to sell it in the shop first. We are recyclers, really. We're selling for people so their items get recycled and used by someone else.

"We'll still be doing some house clearances as well as shed and garage clearances as we're fully licensed to go to the tip. I could never just sit at home and do nothing - I'd go stir crazy."

The couple, who have four children, Robert, Richard, Stuart and Anna, will continue to support local charities, now concentrating on one close to their heart.

"We used to donate a lot of new items to Variety and the hospices but have been supporting the Great Western Air Ambulance for about a year now. It's a charity that we love."

As technology moves forward and times change, Lynne has seen major changes in the type of items which come in to the shop.

"The goods have changed tremendously over the years. It used to be video players but now it's all DVD players."

A day's work at The Attic was never the same, and the couple can look back on some fun times - and some unusual finds.

"We did a house clearance and in one of the bedrooms was a coffin! I hasten to say there was no one in it but we had to call the undertakers to come and take it away.

"Another time there was a shipping container which had to be moved so we had to call in massive cranes to help us. We really do go to town and clear everything.

"One time, a man came in with a coffee table and it was really awful. I told him I was really sorry but we'd never be able to sell something like that. The man then said: "But I'm buying it!" It turned out he'd picked it from our sheds at the back where we used to store bigger furniture. That was pretty funny!"

But not every job has been a pleasant one.

"We've done some house clearances where people have passed away and no one has found them for about three weeks so there are flies everywhere. We put on overalls, long gloves up to our elbows, wear masks because the stench is unbelievable, and just get on with it. I've been doing it for so long, nothing phases me."

One time Lynne was given two fifty pound notes from a sale. When she took them to the bank she discovered they were fake.

"That was upsetting but it does happen," she said stoically.

No item was too big - or too small - for the couple to sell. They've sold everything from a deodorant to a Robin Reliant, which their son sold for them on eBay.

"We try not to throw anything away. If we have to then it's because it's no good to man or beast!" Lynne said.

Thankfully another saying - one man's junk is another man's treasure - is also true and the couple admit to making a good living from other people's unwanted items, gaining a fixed rate of 30 per cent commission from every sale.

"I've had a lovely life out of it with some fantastic holidays," said Lynne.

"To be leaving is quite emotional. People have been coming in to tell us that they'll miss us. We've been part of the community now for so long and have met wonderful friends and customers through the shop."

The closure of The Attic is all the more poignant as Lynne says the shop was the first of its kind in Bristol, attracting customers from all over, with some even coming from France, Spain, Ireland, Newport and Cardiff.

"One man was renting in Bristol but moved back home so we did a bank transfer to India when we sold his things."

Lynne, who marked the last day of the shop on March 24 by inviting customers and neighbours in for a farewell drink, believes shutting up shop has come at the right time.

"Even though we're still busy, I think the time is right. We were going to retire a year ago but when it came to it, I didn't feel ready because the shop had been my life since I was 17. A  lot of people now sell everything online through eBay or Facebook so I think we are now getting out at the right time.

"It's the end of an era."