Over the last two decades news headlines have marked the decline of high street shops and community services, but one Harrogate village store and Post Office is defying all the trends.
Owners of the Dale Stores in Birstwith, Matthew and Andrea Walwyn took over the shop and Post Office in 2006. leaving behind the hectic 9-5.
Matthew said: “Andrea was a managing director of a catering company, and I was in manufacturing, working with the major supermarkets.
“We both had hectic jobs and it wasn’t much fun, so in 2006 we packed it all in and decided to run a village shop.
“We have a passion for local food and because I had spent so much time working with the supermarkets I wanted to create a point of difference from them.
“In my view they were becoming far too powerful in terms of prices and bullying suppliers so it was a fight back against that kind of attitude.
“We filled our shop with locally sourced produce and things we wanted to see in a nice village shop. We live here and we put ourselves in the shoes of the customer and made sure we supplied things that we would want to buy.”
Thirteen years on and the couple owe their success to a number of things; developing the shop’s range, investing time in their staff, embracing change, and most of all - enjoying themselves.
But in so many ways their enjoyment and passionate commitment has been a selfless interest.
In 2014, Matthew and Andrea took a salary cut from the Post Office to become a Post Office Local and make the desk opening hours more convenient for their customers.
Matthew said: “When the opportunity came from the Post Office to turn us into a Post Office Local we jumped at the chance.
“We lost our salary and got commission based on the number of processed transactions, so it did mean partly that we were losing out but as far as we were concerned it was offering a far better service to our community.
“In the old days, the Post Office would open from 9am till 1pm, then shut and re-open from 2pm till 5.30pm and it was closed on a Tuesday afternoon.
“Then it started to close on a Saturday, so if someone came into the store on a Saturday morning wanting to post a parcel there was nothing we could do for them. Now people are coming in just after 7.30am to send parcels and it is very, very busy.”
‘It’s not all doom and gloom’ for Post Offices, Matthew proves, but by the same token he accepts that the district is facing a challenge, and has seen first hand the ‘terrible impact’ of losing the community service.
He said: “We have seen the terrible impact that it has on rural communities in particular. There are so many villages that have no pub and no Post Office that used to be thriving.
“It’s crucial for a community to have a Post Office - we get a lot of elderly people who live around here, if we lost the Post Office service I don’t know what they would do.
“We have seen the impact of Hampsthwaite losing their branch and we are now the nearest Post Office to the people living in that community.
“We would fight as hard as we can to maintain the Post Office in our village, we are busier now than we have ever been as a Post Office and I think part of that is losing the service at Hampsthwaite.”
The challenge to keep the branch going still exists in Birstwith but it’s clear, a positive attitude goes a long way.
“The Post Office is losing a lot of the range that it can offer. More and more things like TV licences and premium bonds are being lost to online services, so we have to be proactive in terms of getting people through the door,” explains Matthew.
“I’d say 90 percent of transactions are just letters and parcels and cash withdrawals these days,”
“Success is about providing the modern Post Office network but also providing an excellent service.
“Our benefit is that we offer both, we have a busy Post Office and a busy shop, the place is alive and buzzing, it’s absolutely thriving.” he adds.
Unwrap this bustling village shop even further, and you’ll discover that it is built on the strong community values that rural businesses have relied upon for decades.
Matthew said: “We are very people orientated, whether they are customers or staff, we enjoy engaging with people and our staff love being here.
“Hayley has been here since she was 17 and she’s just turned 24. She’s a local farming girl and she called into the shop one day asking if we did apprenticeships.
“We had to look into it and we considered whether it was something that we could do. Since then she has done three apprenticeships and now she runs the place when we are not here and she can do it with her eyes closed.
“She has the same philosophy that we do. We have a laugh with our customers, people come in and we know them all by name.
“We do a lot on social media to keep customers engaged and we just try to create a fantastic atmosphere.”
“I think a lot of that goes back to our corporate days. People will come here because they know it will be a laugh, we will look after them, we will carry their bags to the car and they will enjoy themselves.”
Part and parcel of that fantastic atmosphere has been the little things, for example the team celebrate the weekend by cracking open a bottle of wine with their customers every Friday at 5.30pm.
“We get customers coming in because they know that we have done that and we celebrate the fact that the weekend is here.” said Matthew.
But after more than a decade of dedication, the couple are looking ahead to the next stage of their lives and have put the store on the market.
Matthew said: “We will sell eventually, we are not necessarily desperate to sell, we want to hand this over to the right custodian.
“This place has been here since 1893 and it will be here a long time after we have gone, we are just looking after it.
“The next people have to be like-minded people, committed to working hard - because it’s not easy - and they have to be committed to maintaining the services and the level of business we have built up here including the Post Office.
“The Post Office has been here a long time and I am not going to be responsible for closing down this vital community service.”