Store's pounds 1m before lunch in sales rush

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The Independent Online
Giant queues marked the start of the January sales yesterday as determined shoppers shrugged off sub-zero temperatures to hunt down bargains.

Selfridges in the West End of London notched up sales worth pounds 1m before lunch after around 800 people queued six-deep for the best offers.

The MetroCentre in Tyneside, Europe's biggest shopping complex, was besieged two hours before official opening time, forcing staff to relent to allow freezing customers in from the cold.

But in Newcastle-upon-Tyne two brothers, John and David Fowler, showed they were made of sterner stuff. They had waited since Christmas Day in temperatures down to minus 7C outside Barker and Stonehouse store to snap up a pounds 2,245 sofa for pounds 99.

One store in Sheffield was so busy that it had to ration customers in and out, while shops all over the country said they were "buzzing".

And as cash registers jingled in defiance of any gloomy economic forecast, one London store-owner had more good news than most.

In a remarkable echo of the advertising slogan: "It was so good I bought the company," an Arab sheikh walked into one London store and bought it.

Well, almost. According to Martin Barnett, owner of Charlotte's soft furnishings and furniture shop at Marble Arch, four arabs - a sheikh and his aides - walked in on Boxing Day and made an offer.

"The sheikh spoke through an interpreter and said: `What is your lease? You're for sale.' I explained we weren't for sale, we were having a sale," Mr Barnett said yesterday.

But the sheikh was adamant. Mr Barnett had sold a complete set of stock to the sheikh's cousin, also a sheikh, last year. Their respective third wives discussed the purchase and the second sheikh decided he must have one too.

Mr Barnett, being a cautious man, telephoned Dubai for confirmation. The first sheikh confirmed that the second was an honourable man, and Mr Barnett said that a pounds 5,000 cash down-payment on the spot finally settled the pounds 350,000 deal agreed yesterday.

Everything about the store, a family-run business producing hand-made furniture and providing Laura Ashley-style furnishings, will be now reproduced in a shopping centre in the Arab Emirates. "[The sheikh] said he liked the concept," Mr Barnett said.

A boon indeed for a company struck by misfortune before Christmas when the strikes in France made deliveries of pounds 75,000 of the shop's hand-made stock impossible.

But Mr Barnett is no stranger to strange happenings. He was the man whose Santa Claus was last year arrested as a suspected illegal immigrant.

Morne Truter, a strapping South African, was picked up after a malicious tip-off, Mr Barnett thought. It ruined the store's Christmas window display. Better luck this year.

Sales guide, page 9