The Roots of Retro36


The Beginning

At Christmas 1973 when Carole turned to her husband Barry and said "let's open a shop", they couldn't have known the highs and lows that would follow. She gave up her job as a primary school teacher and Barry would have too but their bank manager advised him to continue teaching in case it didn't work out.

They'd been teaching during the day for seven years and for five years had been silver service waiting on Saturdays and Sundays in local hotels. They decided to take the plunge and put all their savings into refitting and stocking the new shop, with assistance from the bank.

Their first shop - Upstairs Downstairs

Barry and Carole opened Upstairs Downstairs at 22 St. Nicholas Street, Scarborough in April 1974 selling an eclectic mix of Portmeirion pottery, Le Creuset cookware, Scandavian silver jewellery, 60’s inspired fashion jewellery by Mary Quant, Mitzi Bell perfumes and occassional furniture like Spanish rush seated pine chairs and buff willow basketware from Madeira. By chance, they made some great contacts in their first year of business. Suppliers they are still using nearly 40 years on. Barry regularly regales the tale of a chance encounter in 1974 at a gift expo at the Spa with a third generation business based in Wakefield. This was to become a defining business relationship and led to Barry travelling the world over the next 30 years.

Upstairs Downstairs also had a proper Italian coffee lounge on the unusual mezzanine floor upstairs. Barry chose to install the iconic 'Gaggia' coffee machine with a hand-pulled mechanism which made delightful coffee, served in novel glass cups. It was an instant hit and they soon started doing a lunchtime menu. Before long, they became famous for crab salads having done a deal with a local fisherman to buy all the crab he could catch. Barry could be seen driving to the seafront in his Fairthorpe Electron Minor to collect the catch every day. Focusing more and more on fresh produce, they had cakes and scones baked daily which again Barry would collect on his new toy, a little blue Vespa with a special pannier on the back!

With Barry keeping chickens, they had the idea of using the eggs - with the saying 'our nice eggs are from happy hens' along with a photo of Barry and his hens on the counter. They also grew their own produce, including Webbs Wonderful lettuce and tomatoes, had fresh flowers from their garden on every table and with their waiting experience, and a welcome mention by Egon Ronay, they were able to build a very popular business.


By 1976, they had opened another gift shop called Expansion at 36 St Nicholas Street, and shortly after, Carole also expanded, blessing them with twin boys in 1977, John and Paul (we've heard the one about George and Ringo). 

In 1980, the family rebranded Expansion to Eaton Place and opened an Athena gallery (the first ever dedicated Athena shop).

By 1982, Barry and Carole were still hungry to bring something really different to Scarborough, opening Meander at 14b St Nicholas Street specialised in upmarket products from the orient. From fashion items like the iconic Cheong Sam long dresses, homewares such as Chinese woks, Mongolian fire kettles to food like tofu and dried Chinese mushrooms (all unique for their time).

Things were going well until Upstairs Downstairs suffered a deliberate arson attack in 1986 but they were quickly back on their feet again.

In 1987, the year Barry was elected as a councillor and became president of the Rotary Club, the opportunity came to lease the shop next door to Upstairs Downstairs (formerly Hartley Fraser menswear). They seized the opportunity, knocked through and at 3000 sq ft, making Upstairs Downstairs a landmark independent store in the town. Barry travelled the world to find innovative and exciting new products, focusing on cane furniture and the store became known as The Cane Emporium.

Retro 36

By 1999, Upstairs Downstairs had become a predominately home and interior store but Barry and Carole were keen to build on their roots. With over 20 years experience in the gift trade, their vision was to bring contemporary giftware, cool gadgets and retro toys under a new brand. They opened a stand alone gift shop in September the same year at 36 St Nicholas Street, hence the name Retro 36.

This was to be the shop that sparked John's interest to join the business. To kick start this new venture, they contacted one of their key suppliers they had been dealing with since 1974. Such a vast order was placed that once delivered, there were so many boxes in front of the shop, it completely hid the shop from view. They also opened The Three Tiers; a niche furniture and interiors shop in town. John ran Retro 36 while Paul ran The Three Tiers. John brought a youthful dynamism to Retro 36, winning 'Best Shop Front' competition in 2000, run by the Civic Society. The shop proved so popular that by 2001, it had expanded into bigger premises next door. 37/39 St Nicholas Street had previously been a banking hall with the property still having many original features such as a bullion lift and vaults/safes in the reinforced concrete basement. The refitting took longer than expected but opened on time in April that year.

The proposed 'New Store'

In 2004 Barry and Carole were informed by Scarborough Borough Council that they wanted to occupy Upstairs Downstairs for their new customer service centre. After negotiations lasting several months, the Council agreed to offer the Jacksons the opportunity to purchase land from the Council, (subject to independent valuation and successful planning approval), to build a brand new retail outlet.

As per their usual style, the Jacksons put their heart, soul and savings into the proposed new build knowing what a great loss the original Upstairs Downstairs store would be.

By 2006 every avenue had been explored, architects plans created, archaeological digs completed, compensation for local residents agreed, right of light explored, boreholes drilled, a full desktop analysis undertaken, full planning permission granted. Even the sometimes maligned Civic Society and English Heritage were behind the proposed development. With over £100k invested in surveys/preparatory work and an accomplished development partner on board, the Jacksons were all steam ahead. But due to difficult economic conditions, political changes at the Council and the unforeseen submission of a Village Green Application, the development ground to a halt.

With Upstairs Downstairs now closed and all their investment made for nothing, the Jacksons took the decision to consolidate and rebuild.

Reimagining Retro36

With more time to dedicate to the development of Retro36, they swiftly launched their first online store in June 2006, (with upgrades in 2007, 2010, 2013 and 2015). The buying team of Barry, John and Paul continued to focus their efforts on sourcing a unique range of extraordinarily cool stuff, presented with the Retro36 twist.

Retro36 seems to be getting things right, with customers both local and abroad enjoying what the store has to offer. Carole, Barry and John have been the stalwarts over the past few years, working in the business every day. Paul had been gainfully employed since 2009 but felt a draw back to the family business. He re-joined in February 2013.

With an extra pair of hands and renewed vigour, lots of new and exciting things are planned.