Historic 144-year-old store burnt by rioters

August 9, 2011 - 10:14 AM
Britain Riot

A firefighter sprays water on the furniture store set on fire by rioters last night in Croydon, south London, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2011. A wave of violence and looting raged across London and spread to three other major British cities Tuesday, as authorities struggled to contain the country's worst unrest since race riots set the capital ablaze in the 1980s. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

LONDON (AP) — For more than 140 years, the House of Reeves was a landmark in Croydon, a family-run business that supplied generations of families as the area changed from a small town to a London suburb.

On Tuesday, it was a smoldering ruin, reduced to a shell in minutes by rioters who surged through the neighborhood, looting and burning.

"I'm the fifth generation to run this place," said owner Graham Reeves, looking puffy-eyed and shocked. "I have two daughters. They would have been the sixth."

Edvin Reeves first opened the store in Croydon — which was then a separate town nine miles (15 kilometers) south of London and is now one of the capital's larger suburbs — in 1867. The business prospered, and he was able to hand the store down to his descendants, who kept it going through two World Wars and the Great Depression. The store, which employs around 15 people, is now run by Graham and his older brother Trevor.

"I'm devastated. All my life was there," Graham Reeves said. "I carried my wife across the threshold of the store 30 years ago."

The 52-year-old was bewildered by the attack on the store.

"No one's stolen anything. They just burnt it down," he said. "It's pointless."

Reeves said his father, who ran the business before handing it down to his sons, is distraught.

"He's 80," Reeves said, adding when he told his father the news "I thought he was going to die."

Croydon is a multicultural suburb, with good transport links and an old fashioned tram system that links elegant Victorian civic buildings with concrete and glass shopping centers. It has some areas of social deprivation but also a strong sense of civic pride.

The House of Reeves was a landmark — the area around it is known as Reeves Corner — and a much-loved independent store in an area dominated by chains.

"The police let us down," said Andrew Hinton, a 26-year-old construction worker looking at the burned building. "They guarded the Whitgift (a large shopping mall) round the corner but let the independents like this burn."

Reeves said the store was insured, but the task of rebuilding is daunting.

First things first: His father is insisting that stock stored across the street be delivered to customers, just like they promised.

"He wants to deliver the furniture to people," he said. "After that I don't know."