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Personal service key to business success

MARWAYNE, Alta. — A small business owner in Marwayne credits support from her rural community with sustaining her through health and economic challenges.

Since 2006, Kari Rooks-Whelan has operated No Need to Nock, a mini-mall offering boutique fashions, gifts and a bistro in addition to her main focus, an ATB Financial agency.

During that time, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour and in recent years, has seen first-hand the downturn in business in Alberta due to low oil prices.

“The fact we’ve been able to survive says a lot about this community,” she said.

Rooks-Whelan said people brought meals and some even came to work in the store for free.

“We found out how much people cared for us and how people supported us,” she said.

In turn, she repays their kindness by supporting community causes and offering personalized services not possible in city branches.

This day, she takes a phone call from a handicapped customer who will be visited later and offers to bring a lunch order from the bistro. She also offers a drive to an elderly customer to do her banking and sets up Skype interviews in the store with clients and ATB lending specialists.

The building houses a residence that she rents and used to include the Sears outlet. Customers can drop off and pick up dry cleaning orders bound for a Vermilion outlet.

“When business is tough, you have to focus on what’s making money,” she said.

Rooks-Whelan had worked for ATB and convinced it to create a full service bank in her store after a major bank closed its doors in town.

“When essential services leave small communities, it changes the demographic dramatically,” she said.

Cindy Lennon, a retired bank employee, takes care of the bistro, providing fresh lunch meals of baked goods, soup and sandwiches four days a week, while Rooks-Whelan also has been helped by longtime staffers such as Sonia Valois over the years.

For the store, Rooks-Whelan takes stock of what her customers want and what she would buy when choosing items at trade shows.

“I’m not interested in what the big box stores have, it’s a repetitive thing. I want them to be unique. I want it to be affordable, I don’t want it to gather dust,” she said of items ranging from women’s dresses to jewelry to art.

She also has offerings from groups supporting vulnerable communities, citing her support of jewelry made by former sex trade workers or rustic furniture from a woman who helped pay for her workers’ education.

Rooks-Whelan said her competition comes from large urban centres and a growing trend toward online shopping, and she relies on loyal customers.

“They know if they support it, it will continue to provide service to the community,” she said.

“I have as many challenges as big businesses but less resources to get through it.”

It was always her dream to run a store, and she liked the personal connection to the old building and its customers.

“I always wanted to have a business putting together all the skills I had learned over the years.”

Joe Rooks, Rooks-Whelan’s father, a former grain buyer, said the building is historically significant to the town and to him. He bought his first car here.

“Small towns need a business like this. If we can keep historical sites going, it’s drawing card for the community,” he said.

The building, which was made from hand carved stone from the North Saskatchewan River, dates back to 1939 when Rudy Isert built the garage and car dealership for his Marwayne Motors.

His generator supplied electricity for the village, and two cisterns under the building were used for the village’s emergency water supply before the water and sewer system was installed.

William Ashworth sold farm supplies here from 1974 and Claude and Bob Neal did welding and fabricating here from 1980 before John and Sharon Kneen renovated it for a store and coffee shop in 1999.

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