THE sight of local children enjoying ice cream cones and slushies was something many in Courtmacsherry thought they would never see again. Following the closure of Rita’s Shop last August, the village was left without a shop, which meant that the residents had to travel outside the village for even the most basic of groceries.
However less than a year on, the voluntary efforts of locals has seen a new community co-operative shop established and business has been brisk since it opened on the June Bank Holiday weekend.
Following several public meetings earlier this year a share option was offered to members of the community who wanted to support the project.
‘We sold enough shares to do a viable start-up and secure the building, stock and secure all the equipment we needed to purchase. We had the help of some retail professionals that are living in the locality to advise us on shop layout and what stock we needed,’ said PRO Dara Gannon.
The former village post office, which had been converted into a house, is now home to the community shop and there was no shortage of volunteers willing to help fit out the premises.
‘We had some building work to do and again local tradesmen and others all gave their time. We were able to keep the costs down to a bare minimum. We just took it from there, we started laying out the groundwork, we got the building secured and got a one year lease on it so we’re not doing that many changes on it at present.’
Following the hiring of a shop supervisor it was all systems go for the targeted opening in June.
‘All the volunteers and the committee members are still putting in a lot of hours to keep the shop going, probably a lot more than we planned. There are volunteers, which are made up of locals and we will get more as the summer progresses as a lot of the part-time local population comes back,’ added Dara.
It’s safe to say the co-operative hasn’t looked back since the shop opened has been busier than expected and with the summer season upon them it looks like it will get even busier.
‘The feedback has been very positive so far and we’re imploring people to tell us of stock suggestions as this is a shop for the community – if there’s something people want or need they can let us know and we can get it.’
Setting up a community shop was, for the 11-member committee, uncharted territory and Dara admits it has become a second job for most of them recently.
‘We can’t say exactly what will happen, but we’ve done market research and we’ve taken advice from retail wholesalers about what typical highs and lows would be like for each month throughout the year.
We’ve come up with projections that will get us through the winter and through the quiet periods and already our expectations have been exceeded for the month of June.’
As well as providing an important retail service to the local community, the shop also has an exhibition space in two front rooms upstairs as well as operating a book exchange that has so far got around 1,000 books.
‘We have take-away coffees and seating outside and we have an ice cream machine and a slushy machine. The shop has got a real tourist village feel to it and it’s a bit funky too, the left hand room is the old drawing room and it still has the old fireplace there,’ said Dara.
The reaction from customers has been very positive and they are telling the voluntary shop workers that they love the character and feel of the place.
‘From a stock point of view we have everything in the shop that you would find in a city centre convenience store and we will always take customers suggestions on board. The committee would like to thank all the shareholders, volunteers and locals who have given time, effort and money to making this possible too. There are very few communities like Courtmacsherry. We have a history of community spirit and volunteering going back to having one of the oldest lifeboat stations in the country – that spirit is special here.’
The work of the hard-working committee members has already been recognised by the Mayor of County Cork when they were acknowledged at the recent Cork County Mayor Community Awards.
‘Our current share offering is open until the end of the year and all the necessary information is on our Facebook page,’ added Dara.
As the only community shop co-operative in Cork, the people of Courtmacsherry are showing other communities that change is indeed possible in a time of rural isolation.
• Courtmacsherry Community Shop is open weekdays from 8.30am to 7pm, and to 9pm at weekends. See ‘Courtmacsherry Community Shop’ on Facebook for more information.