You’ll get your money back’
AMID heated scenes, a Chatteris businessman began writing out cheques on Wednesday to repay angry customers demanding repayments of deposits lodged with his company before he temporarily closed. Simon Crowson, 37, claims he was forced to shut Direct Inter
AMID heated scenes, a Chatteris businessman began writing out cheques on Wednesday to repay angry customers demanding repayments of deposits lodged with his company before he temporarily closed.
Simon Crowson, 37, claims he was forced to shut Direct Interiors UK in West Park Street after a series of accidents and illnesses, including a suspected heart attack.
Mr Crowson emerged from the shop on Wednesday morning accompanied by police officers. Apologising to the waiting crowd, he said he was not guilty of fraud, only of not staying in touch with customers.
He offered those waiting the choice of accepting a cheque or waiting 48 hours for cash. Customers were allowed in one at a time.
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"As soon as I am back to full health and I have ironed out the problems, I will re-open," he told the Cambs Times.
"With the help and support of Chatteris people, I will make it bigger and better than ever."
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But his words failed to appease many customers, including Brian Elam, whose wife Sue, performed the official opening of the shop this summer in her capacity as Chatteris mayor.
Mr Elam said he was one of the first to place an order with Mr Crowson but it failed to materialise and so he was there to get his deposit refunded.
"I have accepted a cheque but if I am let down I will be taking this further," he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Crowson is bitter because his "dream of owning my own retail shop" hit difficulties so quickly.
That dream came six years "after a messy separation when I became homeless and living in a bike shed".
He added: "The week before opening I worked a 96-hour shift, only stopping for coffee and a quick wash. With the help of some close friends I made it - the shop looked fantastic; it was everything I dreamed of."
But he says he cut his hand on a craft knife, was rushed to hospital, had a blackout on his way home, was involved in a car accident, was cut free, taken on a spinal board in an ambulance back to hospital, and told he had a suspected heart condition.
Mr Crowson said he was forced to close for a while, but angry customers began chasing him, even turning up at a football match he was overseeing during his convalescence.
But many customers feel less than satisfied with his explanations and on Wednesday, as they queued after angry exchanges at the shop the week before, a window was smashed.
Among those waiting peacefully were Martin Purell and Clare Hedley, who had paid £150 in cash for a carpet back in August. Ms Hedley is due to give birth next week and the carpet was for the nursery.
Mr Purell said: "They came and measured up on August Bank Holiday weekend and said if we paid cash we could have it fitted the next Thursday and we are still waiting."
Paula Day was there for a refund of £150 for a bed which her mother had paid for.
She said: "We decorated the room and got rid of mum's bed ready for her new bed. She has had to lodge out because she doesn't have a bed."
Arthur and Moira Clarke ordered flooring from Mr Crowson because they wanted to support a local business.
Mrs Clarke said: "I have no faith in him and no sympathy for him. He could have let us know what was happening and he didn't."
But Middlesbrough businessman Abid Hussain said he was prepared to stand by Mr Crowson. Mr Hussain recently bought Oliver's Lodge Hotel in St Ives and said delays with his order had caused major hold-ups at the hotel.
However, he added: "I am owed more money than all these people put together but I will stand by him."
Mr Crowson said: "The majority of people have been quite polite. There has only been the odd one of two who cannot accept the circumstances. Everyone has accepted a cheque and some customers are going to have the work done.
"I still think I have every chance of staying in business. I have dealt with a lot of people in Chatteris who are sympathetic to my situation."
Cllr Elam said she had received many calls about Mr Crowson and problems were being reported before his illness.
"I do feel sorry and everything like that but my sympathy went a long while ago. I'm sorry but he has had many chances to put it right," she said. "It's no way to run a business.