[Please credit Olivia Brabbs Photography]

A family of shopkeepers

Liz Kemp has gone back to her roots to run an emporium of designer gifts in Malton after producing West End shows for Andrew Lloyd Webber and the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations, Catherine Turnbull reports

Liz Kemp grew up in the small village of Bramham, near Leeds, in the 1960s where her mother and father ran a small shop in the village centre, on what was then the A1, or Great North Road. Growing up in such an environment for ten years made its mark on Liz, who saw first-hand the care and attention her parents put into running the successful business.

Real customer service existed then, even if it had no name, she says “There was a profound recognition you were relied upon as a business – customers needed to know that you would be open when you said you were. I still feel that now.”

Despite growing up in a family of shopkeepers – her father had the shop in Bramham and his two brothers had Yorkshire stores in Harrogate and Leeds – Liz’s life took a different path. She left home aged 18 and graduated from The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in stage management, going on to work in London for 22 years, and managing monster events with huge budgets. She was a production coordinator for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Company, stage manager for Cirque du Soleil and had a key role in setting up the Millennium Dome live show in 2000. Liz was also company manager for Jason Donovan and Philip Schofield in Joseph at the London Palladium and stage managed Starlight Express for Lloyd Webber.

She worked on the Papal Tour in 2011 when Pope Benedict XVI visited Birmingham and the Queen’s star-studded 90th birthday celebrations in 2016 where Kylie Minogue sang, I Believe in You.

In more recent years she has worked in the corporate events industry, producing large events for significant blue-chip clients both nationally and internationally and producing festivals and conferences.

“I’d been working flat out for years in London on these big, iconic shows as a freelancer, and loved every minute of it,” Liz says. “But it came to the point in my life, when I knew I couldn’t keep working so intensely and travelling so much. I had lived in the Malton area for 15 years and I wanted to do something else, But what?

“I’d seen the town pick up and realised I wanted to be part of it. Malton didn’t have a gift shop – I realised that I had retail in my blood and the upbringing to run a shop and felt excited about curating an emporium of British-made goods, things you most certainly want and may even need – and something more unusual – one of those little treasures which pops out at you on a shelf when you least expect it. I love the idea of a shop as part of the community, offering a relaxed, friendly environment where people visit for inspiration, the perfect gift, a treat or just to exchange smiles and browse."

Liz has today created an oasis of calm at Kemps General Store in the busy Market Place of Yorkshire’s renowned food capital, Malton. There’s a treasure trove of ‘things’ displayed within an interior which reflects Liz’s eye for staging, tempting passing shoppers and retaining the loyalty of local customers. With a passion for the best of British, combined with new and exciting brands, and contemporary designs, Liz sees herself as a curator of beautiful things, finding time to run a complementary schedule of shopping events and activities of which a London department store would be proud.

“Many gift shops cater for women, but I wanted to find items for granddads, dads, children and women and constantly strive to curate objects for all of them and all events. So, as well as quirky ceramics and candles, I have a large stock of books, gardening must-haves, stationary and crafts and commissioned a Malton tea towel, as well as art and great brands such as Cambridge Imprint, Thornback and Peel, Herdy and Kilner. Some of my customer love my bamboo toothbrushes, for example – there really is a huge range of interesting stuff.

“I’ve discovered that I have a vision for marketing and finding the unusual, gained in London by having seen what is there, that I can bring to Malton.

“With my experience and skills, it was also important for me to continue to collaborate, as I have done in my professional career, in the town with other Malton independents and be part of the force behind driving Malton as a destination. We are lucky that we have the Malton Fitzwilliam Estate and marketing initiatives. Malton is thriving as a market town now and is known as the food capital of North Yorkshire. I believe that having another independent retailer to join the thriving business community in Malton, makes it an even greater leisure and shopping destination.”

Liz’s skills have benefited organisations closer to home in the village of Huttons Ambo. She was bid lead for a £164,000 application to The Big Lottery for a Building Communities Grant to refurbish her community village hall, and following that success, she set up a variety of neighbourhood programmes, continuing to fundraise and providing support activities for older residents too. Liz’s enthusiasm for volunteer support started following a stint as chair of governors of her local school, and 18 years as a volunteer development awards assessor and business mentor at The Prince’s Trust.

Kemps General Store has been shortlisted for one of the Federation of Small Business Awards, the Micro Business Award for the Yorkshire and Humber Area, and was waiting to hear the result as Yorkshire Living went to press.

“I am really delighted with the news,” Liz said. “I strive to ensure that Kemp’s ethos of selling the very best and most unique goods to our customers, combined with our commitment to old fashioned customer service, stands true and with hundreds of entries for this category, I am thrilled to have been shortlisted and pleased that Malton yet again is being promoted nationally as a town of thriving independent shops and successful small businesses.”

While Liz’s store is always open, she sometimes leaves it in the capable care of someone else. “I can’t give up the adrenalin buzz of curating big shows completely,” she says. “I still freelance on producing some projects. But I am passionate about Kemps General Store and bringing the best of Yorkshire and beyond to Malton. Shop keeping is in my blood.”