A family run business with Guernsey heritage that offers a myriad of quirky shopping options in Guernsey? Get outta town… Generations of Guernsey people have saved at the cave. We sent Gemma Long to learn more.
Aladdin’s Cave opened its doors to the public at its current home in April 1979. The shop, which then sold mostly camping equipment, was owned and run by Margaret and Eric Mahy, along with Eric’s parents Bert and Ina.
The couple owned land at Capelles and Eric, a former tomato grower, established a campsite with a small camping shop. The shop became popular with not just visitors, but locals as well, and demand grew. Originally, the business was set up in partnership with John Shuker, a businessman from Sheffield, but he later sold his shares to the Mahys.
When the couple moved the store to its current location, their children, Julie and Jason, who now manage and run the business with Julie’s husband, Rob, painted the then concrete floor with green paint, to make it look like the grass of a field, and set up the tents for sale.
Julie, a former police officer, 44, is now the finance director and was proud to take on the role beside Rob, 48, and Jason, 43, who share the role of managing director.
Jason and Julie’s grandparents, Bert and Ina Mahy, were never far from the store, and played an active role in running it before retiring many years later.
‘Bert could fix just about anything,’ said Julie.
‘When he was about 92 we caught him in his workshop trying to lever a wardrobe,’ said Jason. ‘The pair visited the store regularly until late in their lives.’
As the tomato-growing industry diminished the Mahy family looked to the campsite and then Aladdin’s Cave for income. As the years past by ‘the cave’, by which it is fondly referred to among family, grew in stock, size, staff numbers and regulars.
The family rented one, then two of the sheds and eventually all five, which are now owned by the business. More recently a sixth shed was built – Mick’s Fishing Supplies – which is the only purpose-built tackle-shop in the Channel Islands.
Rob, also a former police officer, joined the business following a ‘chance remark’ one day between him and Eric. ‘I was looking for a career change and had worked in retail before I joined the police force.’ Eric took him up on the offer and made him Photos by Etienne Laine | assistant manager. Rob learnt the family ropes; delivering, buying stock, managing staff and soon became an integral part of the team.
Jason, after completing his A-levels, went to university to train as a physiotherapist. When he returned to the island he practised for some years. However, a combination of personal circumstances and the ‘call’ to join the family business saw him become part of the Aladdin’s Cave management team in 2000.
Recounting their memories of the family business, Jason and Julie said their parents worked on Sundays from time-to-time and as youngsters they would join them at the store.
‘On a Sunday I’d be roller-skating up and down the aisles and Jason would be skateboarding around the store,’ said Julie.Aladdin’s Cave now has 46 employees, including management, with the longest serving member; warehouse manager Keith Battle, having been with the company for 28 years. He remains a key member of the management team today. No family business is complete without a pet, and Muppet – Eric’s dog – who now belongs to Jason, spends its days napping under Jason’s desk in the office above the store.
On a Sunday I’d be roller-skating up and down the aisles and Jason would be skateboarding around the store.
Jason’s children, Ellie, 17, and Sam, 14, now have Saturday jobs at ‘the cave’.
‘They may choose to get more involved in the business, even take it on one day, but that’s a long way into the future and their decision.’
The store remains popular with existing and new customers. With a focus on customer service, Aladdin’s Cave has everything from prams to pans and sofas to skateboards.
‘We are constantly evolving,’ said Jason. ‘The minute you stand still you go backwards.’
The business supports local suppliers where it can, sponsors the annual Aid Reaching Children Santa Fun Run and has donated hundreds of raffle prizes to various local charity fundraisers.
Words : Gemma Long | Photography : Etienne Laine