Otley in West Yorkshire is not a place where you would usually expect to find a bargain.
Its upmarket centre, where ITV soap Emmerdale is filmed, boasts an array of independent bookshops, boutique craft stores and expensive-looking cafes. Yet hidden among them is ‘Britain’s Cheapest Shop’.
Run by father-and-son duo Steve and Stewart Nelson, The 20p Shop is reminiscent of a car boot sale. And as the name suggests, everything — from chocolate bars and books to gold jewellery and bikes — costs just 20p.
Bargain hunter: Money Mail reporter Helena Kelly outside The 20p Shop in Otley, West Yorkshire
The store has been open for nearly five years but its popularity has sky-rocketed in recent months, attracting visitors from all over the country.
As the cost- of-living squeeze puts unprecedented pressure on household budgets, bargains are becoming harder to find.
Popular low-cost retailers such as B&M and Primark have warned of looming price hikes. And figures from the Office for National Statistics show even the cheapest supermarket goods have risen by between 6 and 7 per cent in the past year.
But could the doom and gloom on the High Street spark a resurgence of good old-fashioned car boot sales and bric-a-brac shops like the one here in Otley?
It certainly seems so. The Charity Retail Association estimates sales across its stores are up 10 per cent from this time last year, while the National Car Boot Sales organisation says some of its sites are ‘breaking records’ for visitor numbers.
And as I step into the narrow, dimly lit 20p Shop at 3pm on a Thursday, it is buzzing with customers.
Here they rifle through stacks of neatly displayed greetings cards, books, calendars and — a telling sign of these times — bottles of hand sanitiser and face masks.
I even spot several CDs with the Daily Mail hallmark — presumably freebies from issues gone by.
Reams and reams of DVDs, LPs, and CDs are there — I feel as if I’ve stepped back in time, especially as everything must be paid for in cash.
Did you know? The 20p piece is 40 years old; it was introduced into general circulation in 1982
Though this has been made more difficult by bank and ATM closures which have left the town with just one Halifax branch.
As I walk past the entrance, packages of expensive-looking headphones sit on top of each other, complete with the original price tag — £19.99.
Now I begin to feel suspicious. How can the Nelsons — in the face of soaring inflation — afford to sell all of these goods for just 20p? Stewart, 28, insists it is down to good haggling and bargain hunting.
The family has, for generations, owned market stalls and been regulars at car boot sales.
‘When I was a kid, all of my friends would be playing football on a Friday night and I’d be helping my dad stack his van,’ he says. ‘We’d spend all weekend at the car boots selling bits. Now we get our stuff from a mixture of places.
‘Some of it is second-hand, some of it we buy in bulk and some of it is cast-offs from other shops. We struggle like every other small business but we aren’t here to make a big profit.’ All of the staff here work on a voluntary basis.
Bric-a-brac: The 20p shop sells all sorts of goods including birthday cards, books and even an old Daily Mail DVD
One volunteer, Sue Mckie, 53, says she was drawn to the sense of camaraderie at the store. With its garish, bright red sign, one might suspect The 20p Shop is unpopular among locals of Otley — but Sue insists this isn’t the case.
As she mans the till, I hear her say: ‘We had 10,000 cards delivered last Friday. They’re selling like hotcakes.’
I ask Stewart how much these would cost and he says it can be anything from 19p a card — leaving them nothing more than 1p profit per item — to £20 for a box of thousands. He also tells me he receives generous donations.
A few weeks ago, somebody gave the store two children’s bikes — both of which were gone within the hour.
‘It can get a bit tense sometimes,’ says Sue. ‘The other morning we had two customers getting quite competitive about who took home a Simply Red LP.’
Indeed, there are real bargains to be found within this Yorkshire treasure trove. Stewart says somebody once donated a gold ring to the store.
It was snapped up by a customer who took it to a jeweller nearby and found it was worth £120. She sold it immediately.
No crock: Everything in the shop is priced at 20p – meaning there are always some real bargains to be had
Store volunteers have spotted customers on their phones Googling the value of books to see if they can be sold on for a profit.
When I ask Stewart if it bothers him that people may be exploiting his goodwill, he insists it doesn’t.
He says: ‘You could be a millionaire walking through here and it wouldn’t matter. The shop is for everyone. We’re not motivated by making loads of money.’
Staff say customers are a mixture of those struggling to make ends meet and shoppers looking for the thrill of a bargain.
Retired couples, teenagers and young families with children stream through the door while I’m there — and nobody leaves without buying something.
‘Are these just 20p?’ asks one woman, excitedly. ‘Definitely?’
Another male customer explains he is visiting for the day from Nottingham. He cannot believe his luck.
Sue tells me they’ve even had visitors from Abu Dhabi and Canada. Still, it seems astonishing that a store like this can survive a two-year pandemic — in which it was forced to shut for months at a time — let alone the ensuing cost-of-living crunch.
But there is an old-school survival spirit at the heart of The 20p Shop. And Stewart is a convincing salesman. ‘We won’t ever stop selling things for 20p,’ he says. ‘That’s the whole ethos of the shop and we were built around a social purpose to make things affordable for the community.’