IN 1960 Anthony Snell arrived in Penarth with the aim to build his own business from the ground up.

Then in his late twenties and fed up with the bureaucracy of life working all around the country with WH Smith, the star mathematician and taskmaster had his eyes on a modest development on Stanwell Road.

The first person to move into the brand new one-storey blocks back then was Mr Snell.

And days before the shop’s 60th birthday on Wednesday, September 16, A.B Snell and Son is still going as strong as ever.

Anthony’s son Richard, who took over the business officially in 1998, has explained why next Wednesday he will be the proudest man in Penarth.

“I want to start with dad because this is more about him than me,” Richard said, beginning an hour-long chat about life in the heart of the town.

“Dad was from a hard-up family in Newport and was one of eight children.

“He left school at 14 and was straight into WH Smith, where he and all of his siblings, and his father, worked at some stage.

“His father died when he was 16 and from a very early age he learned to graft.

“Other than a couple of years’ national service, he’d dedicated his life to WH Smith. By 29 he’d managed most of the branches in Wales, and travelled by newspaper trains because he didn’t have a car.

“He was a Haverfordwest lad and met my mum, who was from Penarth, in Jersey while on holiday.

“After I was born in 1959, he got fed up of the politics at the business and had moved into my mother’s parents’ house on Westbourne Road, where he had one eye on the development here.

“I remember life being tough financially for a while. He never bought anything on credit, didn’t drive a car until 1964, and eventually saved enough money for us to buy our own house on Redlands Road.

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“One of the major things that sticks out about dad is how incredibly honest he was. He never wanted anyone to think ill of him.

“I remember him short-changing someone once to the total of two shillings, and he drove to their house to return the money. That’s what he was like.”

Richard entered the business at the age of five, “when I could see over the counter,” he laughed.

“I suppose I always was going to take over the business, but I had other aspirations. I wanted to travel, and I joined the forces.

“I have been very lucky. I lived in America, the Caribbean, Norway, the Middle East – everywhere.

“What I realised after doing all that travelling is that I was completely wrong about Penarth.

“When I was 16 I couldn’t wait to leave here, and then when I’d reached 30 and done my time in the forces, I couldn’t wait to come back.

“I wanted to take over the business and had planned to by 1994, but dad couldn’t let it go. He was still here in 1998 – four years after he’d said he was retiring.

“A month before he died in 2003 he was doing wage envelopes. He couldn’t let it go.

“That’s why we’ve not changed the name. It’s dad’s business, that’ll never change.”

While the business is built on the hard graft of Richard and his father, the pandemic has given Snell’s a new dimension, and it never stops evolving.

“We’ve had to reinvent ourselves because the dynamic has changed completely.

“For the first time we’ve made a website, which we’d always talked about but never got around to doing.

“Now you can order local deliveries, you can click and collect, and soon you’ll be able to see everything we offer online.

“The home deliveries have been an amazing success. And if a second wave comes and the winter months roll in, home deliveries will become even more prevalent.

“We’ve spent days on end sat with laptops and baskets, manually inputting thousands of items.”

Citing similar challenges during the economic recession of 2008/9, he says the hard work of the staff as well as the ability to constantly adapt is pivotal to why the business is flourishing after so long.

“Things change very quickly, and you have to change with it. Whoever thought a year ago we’d have been struggling for toilet roll or tins of beans? I sold more in a week than I would usually sell all year.

“You can’t ever stop thinking. Last night I was onto a wholesaler at 10pm and was then ordering stuff from a different wholesaler for the next day. If you take your eye off the ball, there’s always a young buck ready to steal your thunder.

“What I learned from my father is running a business like this is a way of life. He slept with a pen and pad beside him because he’d wake up with new ways to make the customers want to come through his door.”

Now aged 60, Richard says he hasn’t thought about selling the business, and has never regretted returning to Penarth in the nineties to take it on.

“There are days when I don’t want to get up at 4am and come here, but I’ve never regretted it.

“I was lucky to have seen a lot of things travelling with the forces. It helped me develop a resilience. I’ve grown up used to difficult situations.

“When I do one day pass it on, I hope whoever takes it over can continue in the same vein, but I won't lose any sleep over it.”

Richard isn’t a man for emotion, but even he admits he has a lump in his throat when he talks about Penarth.

“It’s very dear to me. It might be the best place I’ve ever experienced in the world.

“We’re very fortunate here that we’re not a clone. We have a lot of brilliant individuals with their own individual shops, and I think it’s rather lovely.

“We’ll feel incredibly lucky on Wednesday to celebrate 60 years here.”