After finding friendly service and unique merchandise assortments didn't serve as a good enough defense against the arrival of larger supermarket chains, one small independent found another way to survive: local volunteers.
Between 25 to 50 of the 120 residents in the town of Itteringham in Norfolk county, England volunteer at The Village Shop at chores such as stacking shelves, cooking, manning the cash register, cleaning and delivering orders. The volunteers save around £350-a-week on wages, which represents 20 percent of the store's £2,000-a-week turnover, enabling the store to break even.
Celebrating its 370th year at the same premises, the store is one of Britain's oldest shops and is said to be deeply intertwined within the community. A book, The Village Shop, charting its history has just been published to honor and further support the store.
The volunteering appears to have begun around 18 years ago after Brian Fairhead, who's family had run the shop since 1908, died of cancer. Facing closure, the local villagers raised nearly £5,000 to keep its doors open and formed the Itteringham Community Association. The store has since been community run.
Mike Hemsley, store manager, implied that there's no formal process around volunteering. He tells the Daily Mail, "It starts with people just popping into the shop and talking to us then they offer to lend a hand. Next thing they are our new delivery driver. It's amazing really. It is such a closely knit village and we are all friends."
Mr. Hemsley adds that since most of its staff are volunteers, they have an "enthusiasm that salaried workers don't have. The shop would be lost without all the villagers. But I think they would be lost without the shop too."
The Itteringham shop is one of only 301 community-owned shops in the U.K, according to the Plunkett Foundation, which helps rural communities with community-ownership.
"Community shops are a way of bucking the trend and rising to the challenge is the thing that makes us a success," Mr. Hemsley told the BBC. "In spite of the recession the village is taking steps to get customers into the shop, rather than saying because of the recession it's going to be quieter and we should give up."
Do you see support for local stores in the U.S. rising to the level of volunteerism?