Family-owned town centre Banbury business marks 25 years
A Banbury town centre business is marking its 25th anniversary this year as a locally owned and family-run business.
For Ken and Jane Gillett the anniversary brings with it a sense of hope for the future coming out of a tough Covid-19 pandemic.
The couple opened Sweet Celebrations in the town centre of Banbury in July 1996. They recently met with the Banbury Guardian to reflect back on the 25 years.
Coming out the Covid-19 pandemic and interacting face-to-face with customers inside the shop has been like a breath of fresh air to the couple.
Jane said: "It's nice seeing people again after lockdown. Coming out of lockdown it was weird at first, a little apprehensive, but great.
"We really do like the customers coming to the shop now.
"I had my busiest week last week since before the pandemic. It just gives me hope for the future."
With business gradually picking up again the couple recently expanded their hours returning them to the pre-pandemic hours.
The shop's opening hours are 9.30am to 5pm Monday to Saturday.
The couple hope Covid does not impact how people celebrate Halloween this year again. In years past they have often rented an empty shop nearby to sell extra merchandise during the Halloween season.
Ken said: "If people can still party in their own homes we should be OK.
"We desperately need it. It's the biggest season for us. It's what keeps us going through the year."
The party industry like much of the hospitality industry was hit hard by the pandemic.
Sweet Celebrations survived lockdown with help from the Government grant, by upgrading their website, and expanding their services to include deliveries.
Jane said: "We have had to adapt. We were busy delivering balloons. It was hard work, but it was worth it. It helped keep us going."
The couple plans to continue their delivery service post lockdown.
The couple also found the customer appreciation they received during the pandemic helped keep them going.
Ken said: "I really had that feeling...it's like any disaster it brings people together."
They appropriately marked the anniversary this summer with two big balloons - Ken holding a large silver number two balloon and Jane holding a large silver number five balloon.
Jane said: "When we first started, it was a sweet shop with a few party decorations on the side. We've changed and adapted over the years.
"The business just grew and grew and fancy dress really took over."
Over time they took out the sweets and greeting cards and added more fancy dress costumes and expanded their balloon stock.
Today, the shop offers just about anything you could want for the latest party ranging from fancy dress, wigs, to accessories, to masks, make up, helium balloons and party decorations.
Ken said: "We do pretty much anything you can think of for a party. We do lots of hen parties and stag dos. Face paints are very popular and we do novelty colour contact lenses.
They decorate offices for holiday Christmas parties and help new businesses celebrate their opening with specially designed balloon archways.
He added: "You've always got to think of what's coming up. If it's St Patrick's Day then we decorate our windows for that. You've also got to think local like Spook Fest. It's a local event, and hopefully people will come in and buy from us for it."
The popular party shop draws customers from all over the region.
Jane said. "Idris Elba came into the shop last week. He bought a 70s costume."
David and Victoria Beckham also recently visited the shop with their daughter Harper.
She added: "We like being part of the old town of Banbury. It's a great community."
The couple posted a message of thanks on the Sweet Celebrations Facebook page, which said: "This is such a big milestone for us, which we're so proud of.
"We first opened back in July 1996, with greeting cards, pick n mix sweets and helium balloons... no internet and 2 young boys.
"Today 2021 we're still a small family-run business. We've changed a lot over the years with a huge range of fancy dress, balloon decorations and all you need for a fabulous party! Internet, website and social media!
"It's been quite a roller coaster filled with rewarding highs and the lows and uncertainty of 2020/21.
"Despite the chaos this year has bought one thing remains crystal clear, how grateful we are to still be here. Thank you to all of our customers, staff, and suppliers that have supported us over the years. Big thanks to Lynda O'Rourke who has been with us for 15 years!
"We're excited to see what the next year will bring and to help bring joy to your celebrations."