Having your daughter tell you that she wants to change her name to yours so she can feel like part of the family must be an incredible feeling for any mother. That’s what happened to single mother of two, Katie Taborn.
But for Katie, now 45, it was even more special as she is the fourth generation to run the family business W.Taborn & Co. Ltd, and her daughter’s touching decision means he could good to have a fifth. Katie says it was even more significant because her father and her daughter’s grandfather were in a medically induced coma at the time after complications from heart surgery.
Katie was overwhelmed with emotion when her daughter broke the news. “I was absolutely thrilled, it’s just amazing. It came out of nowhere. She suddenly came over and told us on Christmas Day. That means the name will continue. You now have two strong women who are determined to carry it on,” she said. “Having this happen when his grandfather was so ill was even more special.
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It is a strong family heritage to assume. Paul William Taborn, now 73 and in good health, had worked since his teenage years in the family luggage shop Taborns Travel Goods in Tooting. “He had always joked that you would have to take it out of there in a box and it almost came true,” laughs Katie.
Paul’s grandfather, William John Taborn, founded the company in 1860 after returning from combat in the Boer War. Before buying the business, which was in Elephant and Castle, old grandfather Taborn worked there as a child, sleeping under the counter and sweeping the floor.
As a man he went to fight in South Africa and on his return bought the business and set up franchises all over London specializing in musical instruments and tools.
Later his son, also named William John Taborn, took over – and by the 1960s the family had a number of shops selling a variety of different goods in Tooting, with a flagship store at 66-68 Tooting High Street.
The last store to survive is at 171 Upper Tooting Road – which opened 60 years ago – and Paul felt it would likely close when he retired, but since falling ill in November , Katie stepped in and is determined to keep the show on the road. .
“I love it,” she said. “I remember as a child coming into the store as a toddler and then working at eight or nine on Saturdays in the Merton store with my grandfather.
“I remember walking in one day and seeing my grandfather drinking a cheeky Beefeater gin and there were always ashtrays on the counter. It was great fun, always a very friendly atmosphere with the staff and a great place.
“I remember my mum and dad worked hard and played hard. They always dressed really well and went out on the town to clubs like Ronnie Scott’s. They were pretty well known because of their place in the community.
“When it was a toy store, we had to work in the store when we were kids if we wanted toys. My dad always said, ‘If you want something, you have to work to get it.’ So if I wanted the latest Barbie or Sindy doll, I would work for her.
“The company kept us in a really nice home growing up and supported us the kids and dad was totally committed to supporting the family.” It’s a pattern that continues now with Katie’s own children, Rory, 12, and Molly, 16.
“My son was here last Tuesday working a few hours. It was nice to think he’s fifth generation,” she says. “Business is in my dad’s blood. Having him removed from his shop was incredibly frustrating for him, but I feel so lucky that my dad is still here and can see him!”
Katie’s brother is also engaged in the family business and has also adopted the name of his law firm Taborn’s Legal. “We both want him to continue and grow,” Katie says.
And it’s the boutique’s place in the local community that makes it so special. “It’s this big yellow building and people always say they remember it. My daughter has this thing with her grandpa where she sticks post-its all over him and one day this lady came in and told her said, ‘You look like your grandfather – I’ve been coming here for 30 or 40 years!
“People tell me, ‘Tooting wouldn’t be the same without Paul Taborn.’ It’s customer loyalty that has kept Taborn going.” Katie also begins to make some changes. She takes the company to social media for the first time and starts making more sales online.
The pandemic has been incredibly difficult, but Katie says her father has survived worse. “He’s been through the previous two recessions and we’re still here. It’s a matter of tenacity and determination to keep going,” she says.
So, will Katie’s kids be carrying the flag? “I’d like to think they’ll go their own way, but it’s a legacy we can leave them and I hope they have the passion to take it forward in the future.”
If their enthusiasm for it sounds like Katies, then you can be sure they will.
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