Coronavirus versus a small North Carolina grocer


NORTHAMPTON COUNTY, NC. (WAVY) — It’s the only grocery store within 15 miles. Some would call that a food desert. But in rural Northampton County, North Carolina, during our bout with coronavirus, Rich Square Market has been an oasis.

Many of the people who shop at Rich Square Market are lower income.  This store is their lifeline from the farm to the table.

“I have the best customer base there is. There’s always a smile. There’s always a ‘thank you.’ We’re the same way. We always speak. We always make sure you have. They know it’s going to be here and they depend on it,” owner Frank Timberlake said.

Timberlake took over this small piece of rural retail in 2006, and does what he can to manage his complex supply chains, which are becoming ever more fragile in this time of COVID-19. There’s the usual high demand for toilet paper and paper towels. And the family truck gets a workout when deliveries fall short. 

There’s really no break.

“It’s just steady, hard, fast business, you know, you get one supplier to get you something, and you know, you get shorted and go out and grab and get and come home to make sure that my people have,” he said.

When Timberlake refers to “my people,” he not only means his 35 employees at Rich Square Market, but his customers. That includes one couple who recently moved more than 180 miles away, and came back to shop because Timberlake had what they wanted.

“And they loaded up on meat, and they loaded up on groceries, and they loaded up on produce, and they drove three and a half hours back to Wilmington, and that’s just flattering,” he said.

Those kinds of experiences are what keep Timberlake going in a time of state-mandated social distancing.

“We’re doing the very best we can. I’ve got a lot of hardworking folks here, and I just appreciate my customers, and what they do for us, because they are my boss,” he said.

It’s no surprise when Timberlake calls his customers “his boss.”  Together, they are putting up a fight against a pandemic that is changing the world.

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