The Emporium to close: Maldon to bid farewell to High Street favourite as owners retire after 30 years

By Ben Shahrabi

25th Jun 2023 | Local News

Graham and Mary Powell, both aged 73, are set to retire after serving the people of Maldon and elsewhere for more than 30 years. (Photos: Mary Powell and Ben Shahrabi)
Graham and Mary Powell, both aged 73, are set to retire after serving the people of Maldon and elsewhere for more than 30 years. (Photos: Mary Powell and Ben Shahrabi)

The Emporium, a firm High Street favourite for many Maldon shoppers, is set to close its doors for the final time next month.

But after a deal with Specsavers fell through at the last minute, the owners have been left frantically searching for a new buyer.

Owner Mary Powell told Nub News: "We're going back to the drawing board.

"We have no idea what the future holds, but we've always liked the idea of an indoor market. I think it would be a really good legacy, at the heart of a market town.

"It would be horrible if The Emporium lay rotting."

The Emporium has been a High Street favourite for decades but is set to close by the end of July. (Photo: Ben Shahrabi)

Recently, the local Specsavers branch was planned to relocate to The Emporium. However, after more than a year of negotiations, the company suddenly withdrew their offer on June 1, the day the closing down sale started.

Both aged 73, Mary and her husband Graham wish to retire and enjoy family life and their passion for travelling. 

Mary added: "We will continue with the closing down sale which will end when, literally, stocks run out, which could be a few weeks yet!"

In light of Specsavers' bombshell, the Powells are seriously considering an idea to convert The Emporium retail space into an indoor market or community hub to benefit small businesses and start-ups. Their only proviso is that it should retain the name 'The Emporium', making it a lasting legacy for the town and one of the reasons why people will still come to Maldon.

Early on, The Emporium became well known for its wide range of plants, shrubs, and gardening accessories. (Photo: Mary Powell)

Originally known as Powell Bros, the business was opened by Mary and Graham Powell, along with brother Ray and his wife Margaret, in 1985. The original site, now home to Paparazzi, initially sold pet food and seeds, before expanding into other areas. A small garden centre was built on the back (now Paparazzi's reception area and patio) and the shop soon developed a reputation for selling high quality plants and shrubs, along with a range of garden accessories.

Wenlocks, a family-owned haberdashery and clothing store, had built an enviable reputation for quality and excellent service. When its premises in Maldon High Street became vacant in 1993, the Powell brothers purchased it to expand their business.

As The Emporium continued to expand, so did its range of stock, catering to pets of all shapes and sizes. (Photo: Mary Powell)

In 1994, the rear of the property was converted into a garden centre and car park.

Much thought was given to the name of the new shop, but the owners agreed 'The Emporium' suited it best. This was due to the sheer variety of the stock that Ray and Graham had to source to fill the large premises in the early days.

In 1996, Ray joined Margaret in retiring, leaving Mary and Graham in charge of the business. Their vision was for The Emporium "to become one of the reasons people come to Maldon". 

The Emporium was previously extended to create the entrance from the garden centre. (Photo: Mary Powell)

Graham and Mary visited many national exhibitions and established relationships with some of the UK's leading giftware and homeware suppliers, to ensure the latest lines and trends were regularly displayed on The Emporium's shelves.

Mary recalled: "It truly was an emporium - as originally envisaged - selling a wide variety of items that were essential, useful, decorative, nice to have, or that you didn't even know you needed!"

The Emporium and its staff have supported community events over many years, including Cabbie Day and Maldon Carnival, and been visited by the Maldon Grinch. (Composite: Nub News)

Throughout the decades, The Emporium has supported community initiatives such as the annual Maldon Victorian Evenings, Maldon in Bloom, and the Maldon Festival - and even took part in the Maldon Carnival.

As an essential shop, The Emporium was allowed to remain open during the pandemic. With staff on furlough, they operated shorter hours with a team of four. The shop initially offered free delivery to those isolating before expanding to any customers within a five-mile radius, to prevent people from travelling unnecessarily.

Staff made more than 2,000 free deliveries to households during the pandemic. (Photo: Mary Powell)

Mary and Graham are very proud of their contribution to the "public good" during the pandemic, making over 2,000 free deliveries during the lockdown periods.

However, the owners believe their greatest achievement in over 30 years of trading is The Emporium's reputation. They believe this is in no small way due to their "wonderful staff". The average length of service of staff members is 14 years, allowing loyal employees to meaningful relationships with customers and their pets.

Do you have any memories of The Emporium you would like to share? What do you think should replace it? Get in touch to share your thoughts.

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