Frank Long fulfilled his career dream earlier this year when he retired with a cheque for £100. "That's waht he set out to achieve when he opened his first shop in 1960," sats son Brian. "To make that amount of money and live of the interest. So that's waht we gave hima as a leaving present."
Of course, the burgeoning groceries empire that Frank handed over to sons Brian and Alistair ­ newly installed joint MDs of the Long's Supermarkets chain in Northern Ireland ­ is now worth considerably more. Employing some 300 workers in and around the city of Londonderry, the chain today has 12 stores ­ six supermarkets and six off-licences ­ with plans for more.
Turnover in the 12 months to February 2001 was £20m, securing 38th place in The Grocer's list of Britain's biggest independents, and latest figures show another £870,000 being added in the year to January, a rise of almost 5%.
Long's is a remarkable story of success against the odds. If independent retailers on the British mainland think they have it tough, and they often do, they should try building up a retail empire in a city plagued for years by terrorism.
"I remember one day when I was a kid living above our first shop and a bomb went off," says Brian. "I was playing with my toys and glass sprayed over my head as the window exploded. I have great admiration for my parents coping with that sort of constant setback. It happened several times so there was never any point in refurbishing the shop with things like brass handles because you knew they were likely to be destroyed soon anyway."
However, today's Northern Ireland is a different prospect and, while coloured kerbstones may still denote the tribal boundaries, the province has at least become a thriving place for business, leaving the likes of Long's facing a very different challenge.
"The big problem is competing with the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury," admits Brian.
Moving into the province during the 1990s, the multiples now boast a commanding share of the Northern Ireland grocery market, and there is little to suggest they do not have the appetite for an even larger slice.
However, Long junior insists the big chains' strengths ­ out-of-town stores offering thousands of products ­ are also their potential weaknesses.
Long's, for example, has no intention of turning its back on its policy of running medium-sized (8,000-11,000 sq ft) community stores in edge-of-city and rural areas. Its 13th store, soon to open at Drumahoe, will be its largest at 15,000 sq ft and will be a prime example of the Long's offering ­ a mixture of groceries including a meat counter staffed by a qualified butcher, friendly staff and greater ease for customers.

positive impact
"That's our point of difference," says Long. "Our staff often know most of our customers because they live in the area themselves."
However, Long is also frank about the positive impact the big multiples have had in Northern Ireland. For example, he admits they have raised the standard of grocery retailing, as rather antiquated chains like the former Crazy Prices have been confined to the history books. Customer interest in higher quality products is another plus.
But there have been downsides, says Long, not least what he calls the "decimation" of Northern Ireland's supply base.
"Suppliers have found it tough, particularly the dairies, bakers and local farmers, but the knock-on effect has been that they want to grow their businesses with us.
"Some of them have even been prepared to invest in our business for the first time, something which had never happened before.
"The result has been that we now have trading deals and terms we never enjoyed before and that is good news for the independent sector in Northern Ireland."