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Norwich country store a key community hub during crisis

(WCAX)
Published: Mar. 31, 2020 at 4:09 PM EDT
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As towns around the region continue to adjust to the new normal of stay-at-home orders, some small hometown grocery stores and gas stations are making an even bigger impact, including a key community hub in Norwich.

As the cashier rings up a customer inside Dan and Whit's Country Store in Norwich, a health care worker on the front lines fills up outside at the pump.

"It is scary at this point in time," said Nancy Witkowski, who works in the emergency department at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. The Thetford resident has a rare day off. "I don't have to go into the big grocery stores. It's a little, tiny town. It's a little, tiny store but you can find everything."

"I use the story for almost everything," said Richard Neugass of Norwich.

But the store, like countless others in small towns across the region, is much more than just a place to get needed supplies. "It's the center of information and greeting neighbors and finding out what's happening," Neugass said.

However, customers no longer have to do the shopping in person. They can now call ahead with their grocery list and come pick it up at the curb or have it delivered.

"We know all our customers, we know all the families who live here and they support us as much as we support them," said the store's Dan Fraser.

The business is also coordinating community events like a bear hunt for the kids. The animals have been placed in storefronts around town. It's an opportunity for families to get out and about , even though they have to keep their distance.

"Saw my oldest the other day and I wanted to give her a hug and knew I couldn't," Witkowski said.

The same is true for the cashier. She's temporarily living apart from her kids while she helps operate the essential business. It's a sacrifice many are making.

"My husband, my in-laws, my mom who is in a nursing home -- it's hard," Witkowski said.

But Dan and Whit's is helping on that front as well. The business has organized neighborhood coordinators to check in on loved ones and complete strangers.

"We listed all the roads and asked for volunteers. So, we have someone from each road who is a volunteer and will check in with everyone on their road by email or phone, whatever they want or don't want. Everyday, as things start to get closer to us," Fraser said.

He says the systems being put into place in this community will be able to make an impact long after the world gets through the coronavirus pandemic.