An American social media tycoon renovating an English village has turned the local store his great-great grandfather built into the UK’s “poshest corner shop”. Michael Birch made his fortune by helping set-up several social networking sites including Bebo - which he sold in 2008 for $850 million.
He has since been spending his cash buying buildings and land in Woolsery in north Devon, where some of his family are from and he visited as a boy. Birch and his wife have already bought the local pub, fish and chip shop, manor house, several properties as well as 90 acres of farmland.
They have now transformed the “derelict” local store into a posh shop - with a mixed reaction from locals. Birch’s great-great grandfather built Woolsery village shop which remained in the family until it was sold in 1961.
His grandmother Millicent Andrew was also born on village shop’s premises in 1900. Some say they "absolutely love" the makeover - but others saying it would have been "better seeing investment on a local level".
One local said: "Absolutely love our village shop make over. All the buildings were listed and derelict back in 2015 and have been renovated at the cost of millions.
"We’ve already been lucky enough to have the pub, restaurant, fish and chip shop completely renovated by a millionaire who spent his childhood in the village.
“The manor house is still being done up and there’s a bakery to be added as well. So lucky to buy in this village without any knowledge of the investment that was being planned."
But one added: "Beautiful renovations clearly needed In the village but given it was an American tech millionaire owning it all it would have been better seeing investment on a local level and some sort of cooperative that benefited the local families.’’
The shop sells bread, milk, tins and biscuits and offers local products including sausage rolls, pasties and artisan spreads and cakes. Some locals have commented on the prices - with a two litre bottle of milk costing £2.10 - much higher than seen in other local stories.
A tin of Heinz soup cost £2 at the new shop - even more expensive than Waitrose which sells it at £1.70 and Sainsburys for £1.50. But most locals seem happy to spend the expected premium prices in exchange for the investment in their small village.
One local commented: "No one would run at a loss, convenience stores are more expensive. At least they’re selling some local good stuff too."
Michael and his wife Xochi are currently renovating a manor house which is set to become a 17-bedroom hotel with a second restaurant. In addition the couple own 90 acres of farmland in the village which will provide ingredients.