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The Climbers Shop and Joe Brown Shops

Our Heritage - Joe Browns and The Climbers Shop

The Early Days

1959 – 1966

1959 Frank Davies opened the doors of The Climbers Shop in a small premises, tucked away on Millans Park. He’d already been dabbling in selling equipment having recently sold a pair of new fangled rubber soled climbing shoes to some young and upcoming climber called Chris Bonington, so his first day enthusiasm was quelled somewhat when his only customer took a rope without paying for it. The good news was that he left his guitar as collateral and was as good as his word, returning with the money the following day.

Advert in the 1962 Climbers Club journal

As the years progressed, the shop grew and settled into its new, much larger, current location. With business doing well, Frank enlisted the help of his climbing friend Joe Brown. In addition to stocking his brand of helmets and rucksacks, Joe was also an equipment tester and even a model in The Climbers Shop brochure of Modern Climbing Equipment.


1966 – 2005

As firm friends, Frank and his wife dropped in to visit Joe and Val Brown at Whitehall Outdoor Centre, where Joe was working, in the Peak District. Frank was driving a brand-new sports car and they were en route to the Alps for a holiday. As they waved farewell, Val turned to Joe and wondered why they were always struggling for money to fund Joe’s next expedition, yet Frank and Ivy were driving a smart car and heading off on holidays to far-flung places to which Joe replied: “Well, if you want a shop, you should start one.” Six weeks later they were in Llanberis viewing an old Chemists shop on the High Street. It was perfect, just needed a little structural work, so with Joe’s skills as a plumber and a stream of climber/builder friends on tap, the doors opened to the first Joe Brown’s shop in 1966 with the Capel Curig shop opening a couple of years later.

Fast forward to the early nineties, to the balcony of a flat, above a shop on Stony Stratford High Street, Milton Keynes and a young couple were formulating a plan; “What if we could own our own shop? What if we could own more than one? What if we could own a few, keep their historic trading names but run them efficiently from behind the scenes?” ...

A New Heritage for Joe Browns

2005 – 2012

After long discussions, Val Brown was happy to sell the business that had been the very centre of both her and Joe’s life. Confident that the ethos of the shops would carry on she took the momentous decision to pass on the ownership to the small, independent company; Hooked On Granite Ltd.

With new ownership came a wealth of new experience but mindful of the important place the Joe Brown shops hold in climbing history, the Directors felt no need to re-make the wheel – they simply expanded the brand into a new website.

A New Heritage for The Climbers Shop

2012 – 2015

Continuing along the path of the plan, the Directors of Hooked On Granite Ltd looked to expand the business, entering into discussions with their old boss Ben Lyon. Ben had brought The Climbers Shop off his old pal Frank when he had wanted to retire back in 1999.

Again, conscious of the heritage as the oldest outdoor shop in Ambleside, there was no question of changing the name and location which secured the deal. Hooked on Granite Ltd now traded as both Joe Browns and The Climbers Shop creating over 90 years of successful outdoor retail heritage – no pressure there then!

The Circle Completes

2015 – 2017

With one of the Directors retiring, Hooked On Granite Ltd became majority owned by us; Paul and Cathy Casey. Along with fellow Director Gill Barnicott, we are honoured to be continuing the legacy of legends by offering one of the best ranges of climbing, walking and running equipment available with friendly, expert advice from our active staff team.

We are continually looking at ways to build on the strong foundations built by Frank Davies and the Browns so when a chance comment at Cathy’s 40th birthday party lead to the possibility of leasing premises in Stony Stratford; The Climbers Shop, Milton Keynes was born.

The balcony of the flat above the shop, where the plan began, is still there and we are very proud to have re-ignited almost 40 years of outdoor equipment retailing from the same premises The Outdoor Shop – where we first met 26 years ago.

The really cool part is that we never knew the Joe Brown/Climbers Shop history until Val told us as a guest at our Christmas dinner!

Back To the Future

2017 – 2019

After fifty years trading successfully next to the public toilet we moved the Joe Brown Capel Curig Shop 50 metres onto the main A5 junction. Val and Joe (now in their late 80’s) took a special trip out to visit the new shop and are delighted at the journey Joe Browns is taking along with The Climbers Shop. Sadly, Frank Davies is no longer with us, but we like to think that he would feel the same. The next step in the plan involves our website and simplifying how our online customers shop with us. Without boring you with the technical details our separate Joe Brown and The Climbers Shop websites will be merging so that we can offer a single, simple site that is easy to shop regardless of what device you may be using. The deals will be the same, the prices will be the same as we offer in the shop and you will still be able to accrue loyalty points to use either on the website or in any of our shops when you visit. In fact, you will be able to see if the stock is available in the shop you are visiting and click and collect if you wish.

Annus Horribilis

The arrival of Coronavirus forced us, along with hundreds and thousands of businesses across the world to temporarily close our doors not only changing the way we shop but every aspect of our daily lives. Never in our wildest dreams did we think we would have to write infectious disease risk assessments to sell waterproof jackets and karabiners! While still reeling from the reality of being in lockdown we received the extremely sad news that Joe Brown had passed away, he was 89. We were overwhelmed with messages of condolence from customers from personal e-mails to comments shared on social media and gathered them altogether for Val and her family to read. It was such a bizarre time, with just 10 people being allowed to attend the funeral, but it was wonderful to see our local staff among the local community lining Llanberis High Street as Joe took his final journey past the original Joe Brown’s shop that had been so much a part of his and Val’s life since 1966.

With a quarter of the globe in lockdown it became clear that we were going to have to adapt our business to survive and the awful decision to close our beloved Milton Keynes shop had to be made. It was heartbreaking, not least because of the hard work and energy our team of MK staff had poured into making the shop such a fantastic place for customers to visit. For the second time in as many weeks we were overwhelmed with wonderful messages from customers. It was a very emotional time.

We have no idea what the rest of 2020 will bring but we do know that our original shops and their locations are important to our customers because you take the time to come in and tell us. There really is nothing we like more than welcoming people and chatting about adventures old and new – it’s much more interesting than packing an order into a box! Maybe one of our staff team has been to a region you are visiting and can offer advice, maybe they have done the same route or maybe they are just as psyched as you are about trying something new. With their wealth of experience, you can be sure that they will be able to suggest equipment that will help you achieve your goal or make life in the outdoors that little bit more comfortable. We pride ourselves on being an independent specialist retailer and continuing the ethos of our founders by providing great kit with great service and advice, by going the extra mile and by doing things a little differently. To be fair, we have had to adapt a little along the way but if your last name is Springsteen, Hendrix, Clapton, May or you are an ex-Beatle then we may still be happy to accept your guitar in exchange for goods - we’ll just have to ask you to remove your facemask first!

The story continues here with our Big History. It turned out a bit longer and rather more interesting than we thought!