Lily’s Coffee Lounge on Flixton Road has closed its doors – signalling the end of an era for coffee-loving lounge-abouters in Urmston.
Lily’s was the very first ‘modern’ coffee shop in Urmston – the first café to sell lattes and paninis and to have outdoor seating (unless you count Mrs Brown’s, the rough pub in the old precinct that used to shut at 5:30pm sharp). I spent many happy hours lounging around in Lily’s, reading magazines and scoffing cake to a background of Frank Sinatra.
I can remember I was sitting in Lily’s when my then fiancé rang from TGH to tell me that his ‘sore leg’ was actually broken and that he might have to weave his unsteady way down the aisle at our wedding in a plaster cast (oh, the drama!). I can also remember taking my new baby there for his very nearly first outing, popping in for celebratory scrambled eggs on the day my business went independent and, on another visit to Lily’s, taking a call from a BBC producer which led to me being invited onto the BBC breakfast sofa as an expert in education. Over the years I’ve drunk hundreds of cups of coffee in that little place with dozens of different people.
All of the above makes me quite sad that Urmston has lost its original Lily’s, but this isn’t one of those depressing ‘use it or lose it’ small business closure stories. Lily’s at Eden Square is thriving – so much so that I couldn’t get in the other day and had to strop across to the ‘Big Chain’ coffee shop that was almost empty. Lily’s at Eden Square is a remarkable, inspirational success story: a family-run business taking on and beating massive chains.
In my opinion (and I do like to think of myself as Urmston‘s answer to Alan Sugar), Lily’s at Eden Square is so magnificently successful because it combines the benefits of an independent business (the owners are on site and present; Carol and Brian know their customers; the interior design and menu of the coffee lounge is unique and quirky and in no way generic) with a truly savvy approach to business.
A year ago, Lily’s had three branches (the coffee lounge on Flixton Road, the magnificent gift boutique on Crofts Bank Road and the Eden Square coffee shop); today, they have just one. The reason they have closed two businesses is not because their businesses were failing but because they are clever enough to know that you should never spread yourself too thinly in business. Thriving businesses require time, attention and sustained focus.
They also know that you should never let sentiment get in the way of your business. By that I don’t mean that you should ruthlessly rip out the throats of your competitors (let’s leave that to the Big Boys) but that you should make decisions based on the viability of your business and not on how much you like running it. Many, many small businesses make very little profit but they carry on because the owner has a pension or other income that makes up the shortfall. That’s not a business: it’s a hobby, and anyone who has ever run their own full-time business knows that it’s far too much hard work to ever be an appropriate hobby. A less canny business person might have continued with the gift shop and the original coffee shop for sentimental reasons; they could have carried on working longer hours for less profit, but the true businessperson will understand that it makes sense to focus on Lily’s at Eden and let others take over the reins elsewhere.
So a new chapter opens on Flixton Road: Darby’s Coffee & Arts Lounge aims to showcase local independent artisans and musicians while still meeting our communal need for caffeine, cake and homemade soup. Lily’s at Eden Square, meanwhile, will continue to show the big chains how it’s done – serving up literally thousands of meals and snacks every week in the very heart of Urmston, including – from this week – a tapas menu.