Oban shop owners prepare to bow out

Blacks Town & Countrywear in Oban.

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The owners of a country clothing shop in Oban are gearing up to retire this year.

Ashley and Kathleen Toole are stepping back from Blacks Town & Countrywear at the corner of Argyll Square and Albany Street.

They are seeking someone to either take on the existing business or to rent out the 732 square foot ground floor premises for a new enterprise.

The couple, who live in Taynuilt and plan to stay in the area, bought the shop in 2006 but have lived locally for more than 30 years.

Prior to Blacks, they ran the Polfearn Hotel in Taynuilt for around 15 years before it was converted into apartments. They also ran a hotel in Windermere in the Lake District where Ashley was brought up.

Following the pandemic, the couple decided now was the right time.

Aged 61, but self-employed since he was 19, Ashley said: ‘It’s only a very recent decision but I think it’s the right one for the two of us.

‘We have run it for 15 years and with the Covid lockdown, we started to think we are getting older, we have no family to inherit it and we have other business interests, so it was the right time.’

He added: ‘We are thankful for the support we have had locally. They have been very supportive of the business and it’s a shame for them that they are not going to have it here. I hope people understand it’s a business and a job and not a life sentence.

‘Historically it’s been a good business but with Covid, the internet has made such inroads into retail and I’m not sure it will come back. But we would like to thank all our loyal customers.’

Depending on who takes over, the shop could remain open until at least September with a major clearance planned, with the couple hoping to spend their retirement travelling.

The business has no connection with camping equipment firm Black’s of Greenock or major outdoor chain Blacks.

The shop’s origins date back to the late Nancy Black, who established the long-standing outdoor clothing and chandlery shop at the site.

On the market with Dawsons Estate and Letting Agents, any applicant interested in continuing the business would have the opportunity to buy stock at cost price.

In terms of planning permission, it benefits from class one retail use but could, subject to the necessary change of use consents, be considered suitable for class two, including financial and professional services and ‘possibly’ class three which includes a restaurant, café or snack bar for the sale of food or drink on the premises.