Diane Turner has retired after 34 years as proprietor of Diane’s Pantry, one of Reepham’s iconic shops in the Market Place. She has sold the business to Debbie Abel and Sarah Chapman, who plan to maintain the shop’s independent tradition and retain the “Diane’s Pantry” name.
Diane, who is Reepham born and bred, opened her first shop in 1979 in the thatched cottage on Church Hill; needing bigger premises, she moved to the existing shop in the market square three years later.
The kitchen was originally in the cellar, where the stockroom is now located, and a room to the right of the store was set up as a coffee shop.
However, health and safety regulations saw the kitchen being moved upstairs (where Diane was often to be seen making much of the freshly baked products sold daily) and the coffee shop closing owing to the lack of disability access in the building, which was formerly an antiques shop.
Diane’s Pantry has long championed “health foods” and “local products” even before such retail concepts became fashionable. “We simply could not compete with supermarkets on price, so we had to offer other things that are a bit different or special – as well as basic items that people might buy as part of their weekly shop,” Diane explained.
Having previously worked at Bonds café (now John Lewis) in Norwich, she had always wanted to run her own business: “It’s been more of a lifestyle – and it has given me a living over all these years. Reepham is such a lovely community,” she continued.
“But you do have to be a people person and look after your customers, going out of your way to get bits and pieces for your regulars. And you always have to try selling different things.”
Diane has also given sterling service to Reepham for more than three decades, having been involved in the local WI, Chamber of Commerce and Town Council, among other organisations.
“I’ve been privileged to have employed lots of local girls – and some boys – over the years. I’ve even had some of my family work here at times, although one daughter did try making pies using baking powder instead of flour. I’ve also tried to source locally where possible, to offer organic products, and to use ethical wholesalers and products for people with special dietary requirements.
"I have enjoyed the past 34 years, but sometimes the rules and regulations stopped me from doing certain things.”
New owners Debbie and Sarah said they have no plans to make drastic changes to Diane’s Pantry in the immediate future. “This is such a good little business, and we didn’t want Reepham to lose such a big part of the town,” said Sarah, who is a homeopath and plans to extend the complementary medicine side of the product range.
Debbie, who has worked at Diane’s for the past seven years, said that, when the opportunity arose to buy Diane’s Pantry, “it helped that Sarah and I knew each other – and knew we could work together: there’s quite a lot that goes on for us to get to grips with at the moment.
“We will start ordering supplies online and perhaps try to use a few more local producers, but we plan to run the shop for a few months before we even think about changing anything.”
Following a surprise retirement party at Whitwell Station on Sunday 20 October, when around 130 people wished her well, Diane plans to relax on a three-week cruise to Madeira in November.
She said: “I would like to thank all my staff, customers, friends and family for their generous gifts and good wishes for my retirement. I have received more than 100 cards and lots of lovely gifts and flowers. I would especially like to thank my staff for their loyalty over the years and for the amazing party they organised for me at Whitwell Station. It was a shock and surprise, and I’m still on cloud nine!
“The messages from everyone have been so generous in their content and have made me feel so glad I have done this job for so long. One in particular told me they came to Diane’s Pantry on their first date and the memory will always be there (they are still customers).
“My biggest wish was that the shop carried on and, thanks to Debbie and Sarah, this is going to happen. “Reepham, please support them as you have me. I wish them every success and hope they enjoy it as much as I have.”
Diane’s Pantry, 8 Market Place, Reepham. Tel: 01603 871075