The automatic door slides open and, with a blast of cold air, more customers enter the shop.
Sitting at his desk, a mini sentry post, Patrick Marriott gently eases himself to his feet.
I want to go on a year-long world cruise with a couple of pretty nurses and that’s when I’ll die happyPatrick Marriott
His chair is directly opposite the door, but he does not flinch as the draught catches him each time a new customer steps inside.
There is a warm greeting, hands are shaken and Patrick points them in the right direction: beds, occasional tables, carpets, settees, dining tables and chairs, recliners...
His staff are on hand should customers want advice, but they are unobtrusive.
‘There’s no hard sell here,’ says Patrick. ‘I want people to take their time. There should be no pressure. After all, when you’re buying a new bed or a three-piece suite you need time. They’re big items.’
It’s mid-morning in the New Road, Portsmouth, shop bearing his family name. Marriotts has become an institution in the city and way beyond its boundaries. So has Patrick, who is probably the oldest shopkeeper in Portsmouth.
He has been at work since 6.30am. He will knock off at 5.30pm – 11-hour days, six days a week.
‘What else would I be doing?’ says Patrick.
He might sell recliners but at 88 he steadfastly refuses to put his feet up.
‘I’m usually in the shop by 6.30 each morning. The floor from the entrance door gets dirty so it needs mopping each day. I enjoy keeping everything spick and span.’ The store is immaculate.
At 5.30pm, half-an-hour after his shop has closed and the staff gone, Patrick makes his way back to his home... upstairs to his flat.
His life has come full circle for he was born in the same building in 1927.
Marriotts has a delightful history.
Patrick’s parents Ted and Margaret married in 1926 and moved into their first home, 97 New Road. Not only was it their home, but later that year it became a retail furniture shop specialising in re-covering. A shed in the back garden was a workshop so Ted could do his cabinet-making there.
Margaret did the sewing, looked after the finances and brought up their twin sons, Patrick and Peter, and daughter Sheila.
During the Second World War, with the family living in south Wales, the premises were converted into an air raid wardens’ post.
The Marriotts returned post-war and the business grew. First 99 New Road was acquired and gradually other terraced houses either side were added to the portfolio until it spread to its current address – 91-103 New Road.
It’s all been knocked through, but as you wander between departments the shape of the old houses is clearly visible – a blocked-up fireplace here, the site of an old staircase there.
Patrick is enjoying his new lease of life.
He resumed full-time work two years ago after the death of his wife Rhoda, for whom he had cared for 20 years at their Hayling Island home.
He began work at the family firm in 1948 when he was demobbed from National Service with the RAF.
‘New Road was so different to what it is today, There were 90 shops here of all descriptions as well as three schools and five pubs.
‘It was a wonderful community and I’m thrilled that, since my return to the business, so many people who knew me as long as 50 years ago have come to say hello and talk about the old times.’
Patrick clearly remembers the days when the store’s goods included mangles and kitchen cabinets, but he prefers to concentrate on the future rather than dwell on the past. Since his return he has masterminded a redesign of the shop entrance, complete with that automatic door and ramp there and around the store to aid customers with restricted movement. ‘I have a disability myself so I know how important it is to help people who want to view items like our recliner chairs,’ says Patrick.
He has every intention of making it to 100. Then what? ‘I want to go on a year-long world cruise with a couple of pretty nurses and that’s when I’ll die happy,’ he says, with a rogueish twinkle in his eye.