• Phoebe Gardner

Corner Shop Kingdom

Updated: Oct 15, 2019

(Written 2016)

Everyone has grown up with a “local” around the corner, whether it is the pub or more simply a corner shop. They become a key part of our community, the owners are usually friends with everyone in the area and from personal experience, they are the friendliest, kindest and most hard-working people I have met; but this is something which is disappearing within our culture.

Leading supermarkets creating their own versions of convenience stores such as Sainsbury’s Local, which now has over 700 stores nationwide, are introducing a new level of competition which many family-run independent stores can’t deal with. Villages, towns and cities are merging into one with the internet now linking us all together, we can order food online, talk to friends, watch tv, play games, listen to music, Skype etc the list is endless.

The disappearance of these family run shops highlight our changing society and culture, are we as a nation becoming anti social? The need for “real” communication is disappearing, the relationships we have with local shopkeepers is not as important as they were, replaced with corporate cold self service machines and huge supermarkets employing thousands purely so us as individuals buy products and leave in a systematic, quick and easy pattern; actual conversation and relationships have become a waste of time.

Although these shops are disappearing form our doorsteps, many still exist and thrive. Hardeet Rai, or known as ‘Harry’ to friends, owns Holt Super Store situated in the small, quiet Wiltshire village of Holt. Harry is 30, the same age as Holt Super Store which he took over from his parents a few years ago, and has since taken the business to new levels “with the parents they were very old school, manual labour, not very efficient. When they used to run the shop they used to have themselves both working full time, with only three members of staff including them”.

Many of these stores are family run, passed through generations with an outstanding work ethos, something which unfortunately is not common anymore. It could be suggestible that we as a nation have become ignorant to hard work.

I managed to get hold of Harry in a phone interview, answering with “Pheebs we’re just really really busy all the time” although his day is jammed full of duties he made time for the phone call. Holt Super Store was originally a co-op, “but it failed miserably to the extent it was shut.”, Harry’s parents took the shop on when “it was on its last legs”.

Co-op is now a large successful company, with 4,039 stores across the UK but Harry’s family “wanted to get away from that”.

Tesco employs over 300,000 people nationwide, but many independent corner shops have a limited work force. Harry talks of when his parents (Paul and Trish) ran the shop, there were only 3 employees including themselves, although this creates a huge workload it automatically creates familiarity. I grew up in Holt and when I think back to going to the shop to buy things for my mum as a kid it is nostalgic, the familiar faces created an extended sense of home and belonging - Holt Super Store is not just a shop, like Tesco is but also a place for friendship.

Harry sees a wide range of people “you got your locals, passing traders, your comedians and drunks that come in. Such a big mix. Loads of people coming in everyday I know by first name, I know about 250”. Harry is a very friendly guy, on the phone he told me that “I know about 5000 people in the area”, the extent or his sociableness is unfathomable but something of the past?

Supermarkets have staff with name badges but this element of relationship is false, no one knows each other on first name basis which is why people like Harry and Holt Super Store should be cherished. Even residents acknowledge this, Trudy Richards talks on when she first moved to the village, “they welcome us like they do everyone - never complaining about how tired they must have been - with a smile and ‘can I help you darling?’(Trish)”.

Many typical corner stores are family run, Harry’s parents are originally from India. He says “in Asian culture we’ve always worked within families, a lot of my Chinese friends have the same cultural values too. Its not that you have to work hard, it’s just that everybody does”.

Harry also went to university to study a business degree. Many people take advantage of shop keepers, regarding them as just a small part of our daily routines, but this is not true. Many are ignorant to the amount of back breaking work that goes into keeping these businesses running, Harry’s average working day is “mental”, “I’m up at 5, at the shop for 5:30. Then from 5:45 its all just go go go really”.

Harry also has a baby daughter, he’d finish at the shop around 12 and then would “have a few hours until 4 where I would usually take the little one off out for a walk, then come back to the shop for 5 until evening time. So much to do, it’s impossible to keep up on it all but yeah that’s a typical day”.

Local residents recognise this too, Mark Richards exclaims “We are very lucky here in Holt to have such a great friendly local shop. It’s open every single day of the year - it’s even open on Christmas morning” and his partner Trudy “The Rai’s work so hard!”.

Harry faces danger everyday, last year he “got the sh*t kicked out of me. Smashed around the face with a baseball bat, I now have to wear glasses because the retina was detached from my right eye”. Harry still comes to work everyday, ignoring the dangers of running a small business that doesn’t have security, “it’s just part of what you do Pheebs” Harry chats un-phased down the phone; setting in stone that this is a work ethos, determination and wonderful people that shouldn’t be lost in our society.

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