CUSTOMERS and staff were in tears when Minehead’s last town centre family butcher closed its doors on Saturday after more than 100 years in the town.
Albert Hartgen, 69, has retired after 44 years as a Minehead butcher, running his own business in The Parade for more than 30 years with his wife Heather, 65.
The town now has just one traditional butcher – Stuart Lowen – in Hawksworth Road, near Tesco.
A customer told the Free Press: “The shop was crammed with people who had come to say goodbye. Losing such a wonderful traditional family butcher is very sad. The staff were always so friendly and helpful.”
Albert told us: “Changing business trends have made it time to call it a day.
“I love the sea and now I will be able to spend more time down at the harbour on my boat.
“People were really emotional when they knew we were closing down. We got wine and champagne in. Customers said how much they would miss us and that it was the end of an era.
“They bought all our remaining stock and we had less than a carrier-bag of meat left at the end of the day.”
Albert will now concentrate on running his 38-foot charter fishing boat Orca from Minehead harbour.
Both he and his son Ross were key members of the lifeboat crew, and Albert has an RNLI award for taking part in an epic rescue of a yacht saved from the rocks near Porlock in a force ten gale.
He was also a major fundraiser for the lifeboat and twice swam from Watchet to Minehead to raise a total of over £1,000.
“I also swam from Minehead to Porlock, but that was just to see if I could do it!” he added.
An East Londoner, Albert arrived in Minehead 44 years ago to manage A J Baker’s family butcher’s shop, and later bought the business, which he ran under his own name.
“When we took over the shop we had eight butchers and a full-time lady in the office,” Albert recalled. “ By the time we closed there was just Heather and me and one butcher.
“Coming from the East End to Minehead was a real culture shock. Everything seemed so slow and for the first year the customers woudn’t let me serve them – they said they couldn’t tell what I said!
“But we soon became a part of the community. We had hoped it would remain a butcher’s shop, but we didn’t get one inquiry from the trade and now it has been sold for redevelopment.
“In the last five years the job has changed beyond recognition. We get holidaymakers taking photographs – they’d never seen a family butcher’s shop before.
“There are now five supermarkets in Minehead selling meat, but buying online and having the stuff delivered to the door has had the biggest effect.
“We were selling a completely different product - all sourced from local farms and treated in the old way - hung for three weeks and then for another week in our fridge. We had the first walk-in freezer in Somerset.
“It’s a seven day a week job and it was time to call it a day and do other things.
“Business rates have reached £900 a month and the strain of running the shop with less and less staff was beginning to tell.”
Albert and Heather are moving out of their flat above the shop, where they have spent their whole married life, to a house nearby.
“The town and the harbour both have a wonderful community spirit,” Albert said. “I can’t see us ever moving from here.”