Much More Than A Village Store
When I started talking to Karen I didn’t envisage a blog post about a village store could evolve into a two-parter. The thing about this particular store is that there is so much more to it than you’d expect in modern society. This is to a large degree, driven by the owner. Karen took over about 14 months ago and wasted no time at all getting to know her customers.
Martinstown Village Store, like so many shops at the centre of a small rural community, has a Post Office. When Karen bought the store, one of the first things she had to do was learn how to run it. This wasn’t something she’d done before or ever imagined herself doing, but it was a part of the role she was happy to embrace, learning it all from scratch. The opportunity arose to buy the store and she took it with minimal thought. Impulsive? Yes, but it wasn’t a hard decision. She knew straight away it was what she wanted to do.
It takes three months to train to become a Postmaster which in itself is not a decision to be taken lightly. Having never owned a shop either, Karen was in for a steep learning curve. In her favour however was the support of many members of the community, a very nurturing nature and bundles of enthusiasm.
The Next Steps
Having learnt the ropes for the Post Office, the store was in for a gradual makeover. The decor needed to be more welcoming. Not content with just a lick of paint and keen to involve the community in developments, Karen asked a local art student to decorate for her and gave her a picture of what she wanted. Now the orange wall at the back of the store has been transformed and artfully painted to replicate a meadow.
Karen has set about gradually changing the rest of the store’s appearance, replacing some of the standard shop shelving with rustic, more homely looking displays and incorporating a range of locally produced items for her customers.
Since assuming her new role, there have been very few days that the store has been closed. Once a month, the locals hold a lunch at the Village Hall. Karen always attends these lunches with her friends in the village, most of whom are her regular customers. If the store is ever closed, chances are that is why. As a village resident and store owner, she enjoys life at the centre of the community and embraces every aspect of it.
What The Village Needed
A common theme under Karen’s stewardship has been responding to the requests of customers and increasing the range of services offered. Karen’s philosophy seems to be that if there is something she can do to help, she will do it.
A customer came into the shop one day and asked Karen if she did dry cleaning. To someone like myself, less familiar with the dynamic of a small rural community, one might ask themselves “Why would you expect a village store to offer dry cleaning services?” However, this was not such a bizarre question. It’s not always easy for everybody to get into town and it makes sense for there to be somewhere close by that can provide a gateway for other useful services. This particular service was not offered at the time, but thanks to Karen and County Cleaners in Dorchester, the village’s dry cleaning needs are now catered for.
Karen also helps some residents by providing an outlet for their artwork. A lady who likes to paint the local scenery displays her work available for purchase in the store. One of the young lads in the village is raising funds to go to Kenya as part of a project with Kingsbere Explorer Scouts. The idea being that the boys learn how to raise funds themselves. He provides sacks of Kindling which Karen sells for him in the shop and she does not take a cut for this. A bit further afield, a lady from Christchurch sells driftwood sculptures which are also featured in the shop available to buy.
Supporting Local Charities
While many may feel that Karen goes above and beyond, she just sees her activities as being part of her role in the community. She has organised two charity fundraising events since taking over the store. The first one came just a few months after, supporting Autism Wessex called The Big Brekkie. Karen sold bacon and sausage butties with teas and coffees to raise money for a charity that with her background is naturally close to her heart. The event raised a staggering £600 and a testament to the supportive nature of the community. One of the residents even paid for the sausages themselves and the bread rolls were donated by Punch and Judy Bakery in Bridport.
The second event in June last year raised £295 for Weldmar Hospicecare Trust. A charity well-known to many in Dorset for their work for people with life-limiting illnesses. Karen made cakes as did a couple of ladies from the village and people were invited to have a slice with a cup of tea or coffee.
Caring For The Community
There doesn’t seem to be an end to Karen’s love for her community and willingness to help out in any way she can. She even delivers orders to some of the housebound residents who can’t get down to the shop in person. This way, not only do they get their essentials, they also get to see a friendly face and a chance for a bit of a natter.
I may well be in the minority in underestimating of the importance of a village store, and that could be the result of a lifetime lived in the suburbs. I’d like to believe that this type of dedication to local community exists in villages everywhere. It seems unlikely though with large chains taking over in so many places. Thanks to Karen, the individuality of Martinstown Village Store remains and so does the personalised service that can only exist when an owner cares about their community.