Lewes shop owners embarking on retirementBraithwaites reminisce about their decades downtown; stores to remain open
Special to the Cape Gazette — Gavin and Lou Braithwaite are not just well-known, established shop owners in downtown Lewes. They are active, involved citizens.
“We want to retire now to be able to be even more involved in things such as Coastal Concerts, the Lewes Lions Club and the Lewes Historical Society,” said Lou recently. “And, we need to spend more time with my family in North Carolina and Gavin’s in England.”
A month ago, the Braithwaites put their two adjoining businesses, PUZZLES and Lewes Gourmet, up for sale. These shops had opened for business at their current location in July 2006.
Gavin and Lou tested the waters and put a sign up in their stores. “Some people jumped to conclusions that we were leaving the area and closing the businesses,” Gavin said. “They said, ‘Please don’t close the stores’ or ‘Where will I get my puzzles or the British foodstuffs you feature?’”
Now, the Lewes Chamber of Commerce has gotten the word out on the Braithwaites' retirement and their decisions to sell their businesses, not close them. “We intend to stay here in Lewes,” said Lou. “After 22 years of business here, we feel it’s time to move on, sell the businesses and retire here in Lewes which we love and call home.”
The Stepping Stone, featuring fine crafts and also located in Lewes, was formerly owned by the Braithwaites and run by Lou Braithwaite. They sold it in 2005. “It was a seamless sale,” said Lou. “We closed the gallery one night at 5 p.m., did an inventory that night, and the next morning at 10 a.m. a new owner, Sandy Phelan, was doing business in the shop. That’s what we hope to do with PUZZLES and Lewes Gourmet.”
“Our lease from owners Stewart-Becker Properties is good through 2016,” said Gavin. “They are marvelous owners, very professional.”
Lou and Gavin were both working in Wilmington when they made the decision to move to the beach in 1992 and open three shops without prior retail experience. The shops were PUZZLES, the Stepping Stone, and Union Jack (a British shop located within Stepping Stone). “We were open to learn the business and worked hard. It’s paid off,” said Lou. “We have a lot of knowledge to share with new owners who buy our stores now.”
Gavin and Lou would like to sell their current two businesses to one buyer or a couple. “This way, on a slow day, you can make do with one salesperson for the two shops,” said Lou. “You also save on overhead with benefits for saving, banking costs, insurance, credit card costs, etc. with the joint businesses. We could sell the shops separately, but we prefer not to.”
Gavin and Lou’s shops are known for many things in the way of excellence in business. They stay open long hours. “Now in the summer, we are open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., “ said Lou. “During the rest of the year, we are open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. We close on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Locals know our hours and shop accordingly. Summer visitors are happy when we are open at night so they can browse the town after supper.”
Life is not all work for the Braithwaites. They are known for the mostly spring overseas trips they take yearly, sometimes being gone almost a month. “I’m a believer in taking a break once in awhile to recharge the batteries,” said Lou. The Braithwaites can do this because of the high quality of their local salespeople, some of whom have been with them for almost 20 years. The careful planning they do also helps, and it includes the planning they do for the trips. “We travel light and have enjoyed seeing places like Romania, Italy, France, Portugal, and of course, England, Gavin’s country of birth,” Lou said.
“We will be available to help the new owners of our businesses get their feet on the ground,” said Lou. “Sandy Phelan, before she bought the Stepping Stone, expressed concern about keeping all the windows clean. Gavin kidded her and said he’d do her windows for the first year. And that’s just what he did!”
Some interesting background on the Braithwaites - Lou has a bachelor of arts degree in psychology and a master of education degree in college counseling and has worked as a counselor in the continuing education department of the University of Delaware in Wilmington. Gavin had a career in animal health research for ICI, a large agrochemical company also in Wilmington.
“The opportunities to be our own bosses were tempting,” said Gavin. “And, of course, we jumped at the chance to be near the ocean.”
“Local patronage has been high,” Lou said. “With the support of the Lewes community, we have been able to stay open year-round. And our great salespeople have done what we asked of them and more, time after time.”
Interested in learning more about the shops now for sale? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.