A beloved general store was on the verge of closing amid a worker shortage — until customers stepped in to help
Norwich, Vermont — Even before the pandemic, Vermont struggled with a worker shortage. The problem is even more severe now, and nowhere is it more apparent — and the solution more unique — than at Dan & Whit's general store in Norwich.
For over a century, this general store has been as much of a fixture in the community as the church steeple. But when owner Dan Fraser put up the "Help Wanted" sign, it was also a warning sign that an end was approaching.
Every position needed to be filled. "I was like, we're going to have to lock the front door because we have zero help," Fraser said.
The store was his grandfather's business, then his father's. Closing the business "would be tough, when you've invested your whole life into it," Fraser said.
His customers were equally devastated, which is typical when a small town loses an iconic business. But what sets this place apart is that these customers didn't just give Fraser their sympathies — they gave him their applications.
A retired finance director applied for a job in the deli. Rick Ferrell, a doctor, took on a shift at the register. People from all over town and all walks of life — a teacher, a psychology professor, a therapist, a nurse, a principal — gave their time to help Fraser's store stay open. So far, nearly two dozen customers have stepped up.
When asked why people stepped in to help, employee Dianne Miller said that it was "Because Dan & Whit's is the heartbeat of this community." Other employees described it as the "heart of the town."
As if stocking shelves and running the register weren't enough, virtually all of these new hires are donating their hourly wage to some of Fraser's favorite charities.
"The fact that the community stepped up … sometimes it takes sort of a crisis, if you will, to appreciate what you have," Fraser said.
In Norwich, they have what every town needs more than anything: each other.
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