History of the Fruit shop

In 1962 Geoff Weller climbed on his bike and started delivering vegetables around Burghfield Common.

Anyone who shops at the Fruit Shop in Burghfield Common will be aware that there are a number of Weller brothers. In fact there are 13 Weller brothers and sisters, most of whom have been involved in the family greengrocery business in one way or another – not to mention their wives and children. These days three Weller brothers Tony, Kevin and Michael are the mainstay of the business – Geoff having recently retired. But it all began with Geoff on his bike. He was the third of the 13 and he persuaded Tony (fifth of the 13) to join him and together they cycled the lanes with trailers selling fruit and vegetable bought from a wholesaler in Reading. Soon afterwards their father Ernest was made redundant and he joined the business – a strong-minded man with firm views about how the business should be run. The fruit and vegetable business grew as the family acquired vans and a mobile shop to deliver around the villages. Gradually they increased their round to Mortimer, Mapledurham, Woodcote, Silchester, Pamber Heath and out as far as Thatcham.
They bought some locally grown produce from a grower in Grazeley. Tastes in vegetables were changing. Tony Weller remembered back in the 60s the first time he was asked for a pepper. He said: “I thought, pepper, what’s that? That comes in a pot.” But he said to the customer as he always does – “I’ll see what I can do.” In the early days fruit and vegetables were entirely seasonal – anything that could be grown in the British Isles plus imported bananas and oranges. Nowadays you can have strawberries all year long, if you want them. Gradually their range increased as the customers asked for more.
The vans – which were travelling shops – carried some groceries but the real added value was the personal service offered by the greengrocers – the friendly chat that came with the greens and onions. They briefly ran a small shop in Bunces Lane – off the beaten track and really only used for storage. But though the brothers dreamed of opening a proper shop of their own, out of respect for their father – who was dead against the idea – they held back until after he retired. To begin with, they sold greengrocery in part of the pet shop in Reading Road, but when the three shops were developed on the site in 1999 they jumped at the chance to take one of them. And since then the Fruit Shop has not looked back. Villagers flock to the little parade of shops – a pet shop, bakery and The Fruit Shop – and have spoken up for them when threatened. Plans to develop a new village centre at Firlands Square at the other end of Burghfield Common have been condemned and campaigned against by local people. And the strongest reason for objection has been that the new development with a superstore could put the much-loved village shops out of business.
The way the Wellers compete is through the quality of their produce. One of them gets up at 2.30am each day to go up to the wholesale market in Hayes to buy their stocks. Tony Weller said: “We only buy from certain sellers – they know what we want – and they only offer us good quality fruit and veg nowadays. They know we won’t take anything else.”
They have experimented with buying from more local growers but it has not been a great success. Tony said: “People offer us stuff from their allotments but you can’t be sure of the quality or what pests are in it. “We were offered a beautiful box of plums one week by a local grower and we said that we would take it. “He came back the following week with the plums dumped in a couple of buckets – and I wasn’t prepared to take that because it just wasn’t good enough.” Their range does extend to locally produced eggs, some dairy products and a range of jams and pickles produced by a local one-man business. And he has produced a special 50th anniversary chutney for the shop.
The store is now the epi-centre of their business – always buzzing with customers who come to buy from the copious range of fruit and vegetables – and to chat. They can match the supermarkets in variety and price and exceed some of them in quality. But their friendly personal service is unmatched by any chain store. And they still do deliveries – which can be ordered online. Tony said: “We still deliver to quite a lot of businesses and to individuals and to the local schools.” Astonishingly – they don’t charge for their deliveries.
The brothers all work 12 hours a day backed by Cheryl – not a member of the family - who works in the shop, a regular stream of lads who work on Saturdays helping customers carry their shopping to the car, by Tony’s wife Diane who is their florist and Geoff’s wife Julie who is the secretary for the business. Philip is one of the younger generation of Wellers who now works for the team.
Tony said: “We want to thank all our staff past and present and all our customers for their support.” And everyone in the village enjoys the fruit of their labours knowing what a privilege it is to still have a shop like that going strong in the community.

Written by Linda Fort.

A Look Back