Into the Spotlight, sponsored by Huddersfield-based Scriba PR, is a weekly business feature which highlights businesses which often go under the radar. Here, we introduce Holmfirth-based Monty’s Loft Emporium which specialises in fairtrade products and gifts.

Sandra Byatt has achieved her dream of opening a fairtrade gift shop in Holmfirth in a most unusual – yet convenient – location.

Sandra, 63, has taken over the former gents’ toilets near the bus station and wants shoppers to pay a call and, ideally, spend more than a penny!

Monty’s Loft Emporium has been described as a bit of a “hippie shop” but Sandra prefers the term “eclectic” as she sells all kinds of imported gifts and products from clothing and accessories to lamps, rugs and cushion covers. She also sells spell bottles, tarot cards and the like.

Sandra, who named the shop after her beloved boxer dog Monty, took on the former public conveniences in August last year, slap bang in the middle of a pandemic.

“We are in the perfect location and the shop is certainly bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside,” said Sandra. “And even though we have signs outside showing we are a shop, lots of gents still keep walking in expecting it to be a toilet!”

These hapless gents quickly make their excuses and leave, without even spotting the toilet bowl – spray-painted gold – which hangs from the ceiling in a nod to the building’s previous existence.

These gents, blinded by habit, even bypass Audrey the alpaca who stands outside the shop giving a big hint that the public loos are no more.

A gold-sprayed toilet hangs from the ceiling

Sandra and husband Alan, 58, previously sold from a stall at festivals but as they got older the loading and unloading – and the camping – lost its appeal.

After giving up the festivals Sandra became a live-in carer for a woman called Tricia in the North East.

The pair hit it off straightaway and Sandra said: “We just clicked and we laughed constantly. I didn’t know the North East and Tricia had dementia and when we’d go out I wouldn’t know where we were and Tricia would say: ‘Don’t ask me, I don’t remember either!’”

Sadly, Tricia died two days before her 90th birthday. Sandra had told her about her passion for fairtrade and how she’d love to go back to running her own business. After her death Tricia’s son handed Sandra a package with £3,500 in it to help her achieve her ambition.

Sandra, originally from South Wales, has lived in Holmfirth for five years and she saw that the former toilets were up for rent.

Eventually she contacted the landlords, Holme Valley Parish Council, and within a month had signed a three-year lease and had the keys.

The urinals had been removed but there were two toilets still inside. One of them was kept and sprayed gold for decoration.

There’s an eclectic mix of gifts and products at Monty’s. Gallery of images by: SEAN DOYLE

With repeated lockdowns Sandra said the parish council had been really supportive, putting in a new front door and providing carpets. Alan had also been busy turning her old metal festival stall into units for the shop.

“Everything has been recycled or re-used and I try to do my bit for the environment,” said Sandra. “We sell vegan soap and eco sponges and all our bags are biodegradable.”

It’s been a rollercoaster time of openings, closures and lockdowns and customers have hardly had time to realise there’s a little gem of a business on their doorstep.

Sandra said: “I just love what I do and I love meeting people. I’m not in business to make a fortune, in fact I don’t even take a wage. I just love what I’m doing.”

Monty’s Loft Emporium can be found on Facebook or at The shop in Towngate is open Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday 10.30am-4.30pm and Sundays 11am-4pm. It’s closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. There’s two late night openings on December 16 and 23 until 7pm.