Stephen Jardine: Maurice and Nan, we salute you

THIS morning Maurice Carberry will lay the newspapers out on the counter of his village shop for one last time. Alongside The Scotsman, some tabloids and a few London broadsheets will be fresh white and brown rolls and potato scones, delivered nice and early by a local baker.
Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jon SavageStephen Jardine. Picture: Jon Savage
Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jon Savage

It’s going to be a busy morning as customers drop in to say goodbye, and then at lunchtime, Maurice and his wife Nan will close the doors, ending 33 years service to the village of New Abbey. Tomorrow the shop will reopen in very capable new hands so this isn’t an obituary for the village store. But it is a tribute to the people who fill a gap the supermarkets leave behind.

New Abbey is just eight miles from Dumfries, a town more than saturated by giant food retailers. It’s also a popular place for retirement. Add in poor public transport and you have a winning recipe for a busy village store.

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For 33 years Maurice and Nan Carberry have delivered that service. They could have taken the supermarket approach and played the margin. When people are desperate for a pint of milk or a loaf of bread in rural Scotland, the price has a habit of being a bit flexible

But instead of doing that, the couple decided to build their business around serving a community. So firelighters and caramel shortcake cost less than I would pay in my local shop in Edinburgh and if you were a few pennies short of the price, you could always pop in with it tomorrow.

The couple also resisted the temptation to pile their shop high with tinned and convenience foods to turn an easy buck with hungry but time-poor local farmers. Instead they sell free range eggs from a farm two miles down the road, three types of Galloway honey, cakes from a local bakery, marmalade from a small scale producer in Castle Douglas and haggis, bacon and cold meats from a local butcher.

In other words, it’s everything you would want your local shop to be.

I wanted to write about Maurice and Nan because what they do is deeply unfashionable. In our disposable age, they get up early in all weathers to provide a service to their community. And along the way they’ve supported local food firms and given small producers access to market.

But it hasn’t been easy. Unable to compete with supermarkets’ buying power, local shops have to find a niche and offer something more than pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap.

As shopkeepers, the Carberrys are not unique. Around Scotland there are lots of small local stores at the heart of village communities. Away from the glossy world of the supermarkets, they provide an invaluable service to older people who don’t want three for two on pineapples but do want fresh milk, a decent loaf of bread and a nice piece of local cheese.

So happy retirement, Maurice and Nan. More than any supermarket, you’ve served your customers well.