A much-loved fairtrade shop is celebrating an incredible achievement as it marks 40 years in business.
Siesta, in Canterbury town centre, has reached its milestone anniversary after four decades of supplying the city with a rainbow of ethically sourced handicrafts from across the globe.
Les and Chris Harper started with a stall at a boot fair held at Canterbury cricket ground in 1983.
Since then the business has evolved into a huge two-storey emporium on Palace Street, or, as they call it, “the famous green shop on the corner”.
It also has an online wholesale business run out of four warehouse units just outside the city walls.
Mr Harper said: “I qualified as a teacher in 1981 but the only job I could get was in Mexico.
“There I met my wife, Chris, who is actually from Canterbury, but we had to go 5,000 miles to meet each other.
“While we were in Mexico the currency collapsed and we were stuck with a lot of pesos to use up when we left.
“So we bought lots of things to sell when we got back and that’s how the whole business started – serendipity.”
The company soon outgrew boot fairs and in 1987 they moved into their first shop at 74 Northgate, which is now an Eritrean restaurant called Chingah Habesha.
By 1992 they had grown into both 72 and 73 Northgate but soon found they still did not have enough space for all the stock their customers were after.
So in 1996 they made the move into their now famous green shop at 1 Palace Street, where they remain to this day.
The family still visit their suppliers in countries around the world, including Guatemala, Nepal and Mexico, and have now built multigenerational relationships with the people who make the products they sell.
“We always wanted to wholesale as well; it makes life a lot easier if you are importing enough,” Mr Harper explained.
“Originally we were wholesaling from our house and then the garage of our house and then we got a warehouse.
“We started off with one unit and now we have four units and we wholesale to zoos, museums, charities and independent shops, mostly in this country but some abroad.”
Unfortunately, due to the nature of their business, and with the vast majority of their goods being imported from abroad, the couple found Brexit to be a challenge.
They lost thousands of pounds of export orders to shops in Europe and were also hit hard by the impact the referendum had on tourists visiting the city.
The couple also found the pandemic a struggle when their brick-and-mortar retail was forced to shut its doors.
But the family-run business survived and they have plans to keep it running for another 40 years with Les and Chris’s children, Jo and Tim, taking on more responsibilities.
Mr Harper added: “It’s very very satisfying and nice to see my children taking over and getting more involved.
“I’ve always said it's not me leading the business, the business leads us. It decides to go down that track and then it's like a snowball.
“You’ve pushed it so far and then suddenly it's going and you are running after it. It still is a bit like that but it's now my children running after it and they are planning to see where it takes them.”
Asked how reaching this milestone feels, Mr Harper said: “Old. But seriously, it is satisfying, but it’s even more satisfying to see it continuing beyond me.
“Because I’d hate to have put in all this work only for it to disappear with me and my wife.”