A couple’s dream of starting a business – which kept them going through lockdown and serious illness – has become a reality.
Toni’s Gift Boutique is now open at the Dundas Indoor Market in Middlesbrough. It is run by partners Toni Hunter and Carl Robertson who spent much of the pandemic living in isolation at their home in Hartlepool because Carl has cancer as well as a serious long-term back injury.
“We decided we needed a purpose to get up in the morning,” said 38-year-old Carl. “So we started selling gifts online and it just took off from there.”
Their shop is an Aladdin’s Cave packed full of items, including children’s clocks and watches, dream catchers, ornaments, simmering granules, diffusers and bath bombs.
“With the cost of living increasing so much, our aim is to keep prices rock bottom for our customers,” said Carl. “We sell luxury gifts which people wouldn’t be able to afford if they went to a chain store. There’s nothing like this in the local area, so we’re telling customers: use it or you’ll lose it.”
Toni – who is 30 – said she is proud of the shop that bears her name, but it would not have happened without Carl. “He’s supported me 100%. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but not had the confidence, until now.” Carl’s experience of running a market stall in Humberside has also been invaluable, she said.
In recent months the Dundas Indoor Market has seen an influx of retailers and services. As well as Toni’s Gift Boutique, I.M. African Hair Designz 4 U, The Protein Café, Bubble ‘n Sweet and The Norseman York have all opened for business. They have joined long-established traders such as Alta Ego, Leo Libra Pet Supplies and CAM Family Meats. Pop-up stalls also make a regular appearance in the nearby mall.
“It’s good to see so many new arrivals,” said market manager David Harris. “We’re not far short of being full and just a few months ago – when we, like many businesses, were really feeling the impact of the pandemic – that would have been hard to believe.”
He added: “But now, facing life after COVID, Teessiders are going to be confronted by huge increases in the energy bills and rising prices. All of our traders live locally and know the effect that’s going to have on them, their families, friends and neighbours. That’s why – as Carl says – the market will continue to keep prices at rock bottom.”