General store the heart of a community

Kirriemuir Ag and Oil is a one-stop shop that brings people together, provides rural area with essential services

KIRRIEMUIR, Alta. — An infant awaits a helping of mashed carrots in a high chair in a back room and a preschooler wheels around the store on his tiny two-wheeler while store owner Natasha Pospisil takes calls about oil and antifreeze testers.

“I will order in something I don’t have,” she said during breaks between customers at Kirriemuir Ag and Oil in eastern Alberta.

Kirriemuir’s red sided general store also offers gas, a post office, hail insurance, antiques, jewelry, art and pre-made lunches. There’s even a section devoted to sweets for the community’s nine children.

“My main business is ag people buying batteries, chains, swather canvas,” she said.

Large drums of drinking water are also big sellers.

Some say a rink or school is the heart of rural communities, but Pospisil argues a store is also important.

She said such services are key to a community’s survival if people are going to stay in or return to rural life.

“I don’t have big profits,” she conceded. “I do it be-cause I see the difference in the community, not because I see a difference in my bank account.”

She gets occasional help from a part-time worker for the store, which is open weekdays from nine to four.

A coffee pot sits beside a long wooden table and chairs, which serve as the town’s gathering place, especially in winters. Coffee drinkers throw a dollar in the jar, Pospisil said.

“Groups of people come for coffee in the morning. It’s more like a community service. It’s a place to come to,” she said.

“Some come here just to enjoy the kids, and I get free babysitting.”

Local rancher Wendy Carpentier comes here about two times a week to use the post office and pick up her online purchases or groceries.

“It’s very convenient. I could walk there if I had to,” she said.

“If it wasn’t here, I’d have to go to Consort, and that’s quite a distance. We do so much travelling when you live out here.”

Carpentier said her husband buys parts here, citing the trips to Consort, Provost and places farther afield that would be necessary without the store.

“It’s a lifeline for my business,” she said.

The atmosphere here is laid back, with Pospisil barefoot and dressed in a tank top and spandex capris.

She and her husband, Dallas Vert, farm and live nearby, but a house attached to the store provides a living and eating space during the day for her young family.

Pospisil took on this business venture in 2009 when farm income was not enough to support both her family and her husband’s parents.

She and Dallas have an 8,500 acre farm, operate Dryland Agro Services and run a fertilizer dealership. Vert also sells Global Ag Risk insurance.

Pospisil, who was a past RBC Women of influence nominee, helped with harvesting and seeding until the children arrived and now serves as the chief cook.

She estimated her store draws on a service area of about 100 people. The post office brings people into the store and provides her with a guaranteed monthly income.

“You have to diversify to make any kind of success out here,” said Pospisil of her community of 22 residents located two kilometres off the highway.

Finding suppliers who are willing to travel to remote places is a challenge for rural businesses, she said.

Pospisil markets her store with highway signs and a Facebook page but mostly word of mouth.

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