More Than Just a Shop
In the past, few services were more valuable to a rural community than a village store. In recent years many such establishments have been taken over by national chains such as Happy Shopper, One Stop and Londis and with that, we’ve witnessed the disintegration of the personal touch. These stores invoke mental images of red-eyed teenagers in imitation Adidas tracksuit bottoms with hoodies covering their faces, congregating outside with a cigarette in one hand and a can of what is either lager or unhealthily over-portioned energy drink in the other, intimidating patrons as they return to their cars. Harsh? Maybe, but can anybody not relate?
So you can imagine how refreshing it was to discover a village store doing it ‘old school’ and rather than the services offered to local residents diminishing, they are doing the complete opposite. In fact, it’s not just the locals who have benefitted from the owner’s initiative with many drivers taking a short detour off the A35 to call in for a warm drink and a cooked snack on their journey.
The importance of being local
In December 2015, Karen Barrett made the decision to leave her job as a support worker for adults with Aspergers Syndrome, when the owners of Martinstown Village Store announced they were were looking to sell. When the opportunity arose Karen wasted no time in pushing ahead. She lives in the village and as a resident, she has as good an understanding of what would benefit the village as anybody, but since buying the store, she admits she had no idea just how involved in village life she would get.
Martinstown is a peaceful and picturesque village located approximately 5 miles south-west of Dorchester and at last count the population was estimated to be just under 800. Given these numbers, it was surprising to me that even during what is generally regarded as the “quiet period”, there was a steady stream of customers popping in for anything from some potatoes and milk to gas top-ups.
Since taking over, Karen has been keen to make the shop feel more welcoming. The back end of the shop was previously painted orange. Presumably to distinguish the kitchen area from the main shop. Karen showed a picture of what she wanted to a local art student, and now the walls are painted with long grass and colourful flowers as if you are in a meadow.
As mentioned there is a small kitchen area at the back of the shop. This is used to prepare bacon sandwiches, soup, cups of tea and coffee, cakes and even upon rare request, cooked breakfasts made using all local ingredients.
Karen has stocked the shelves with produce from around Dorset. The essential items that you would expect to find in a local shop are all there and are supplemented by some wonderful locally sourced offerings including fresh meat, fruit and veg.
The farm shop in the village closed down last January and Karen responded by stocking some local meat and providing cream teas, toasted sandwiches and soup in the winter. The way the villagers shopped was about to change but Karen set out to ensure that change was as painless and as convenient for her customers as possible. Karen is the first to admit that there is no clever marketing strategy or seeking out of opportunities. She’s simply assumed responsibility for ensuring the village has what it needs and the store has become the hub of the community.
Delicious, lovingly prepared frozen meals are available at the back of the store from Manna Kitchen in Crossways. Jarred products from Ajar Of in Sturminster Newton. The list of local suppliers goes on… Woodford Leaves from Broadmayne, Cheese from Crook and Churn in Blandford Forum, Fruit and Veg from Kane’s Farm in Chideock….. Moore’s Biscuits, Purbeck Ice Cream, Dairy produce from Craig’s Farm, bread and baked goods from Punch and Judy’s in Bridport. There is a demand for fresh, local produce to which Karen has responded and is seeking to discover more.
Karen has embraced every aspect of life at the centre of the local community and has responded to the village’s needs as and when they have arisen. She’s a terrific supporter of local business by including so many of their products in her shop, but her dedication to providing benefit to the wider local area does not end there. Karen is so appreciative of the acceptance and support she has been shown since buying the store, that she has now started going above and beyond to the point that some of the villagers quite literally rely on her.
Read our follow up to this story ‘The Heart of the Community’ later in the week