A SHOPKEEPER running the only post office and shop serving a South Lakeland village has warned it will close by the end of February unless more customers start using it.

Bill Riddell, 62, and daughter Dawn, who run Oxenholme Store Limited and a Post Office Local service on Helmside Road, say he has put thousands of pounds of his own retirement money into subsidising its losses but can no longer afford to do so.

The pair, who work 70-plus hour weeks, took over the shop in March 2010 and reopened the post office a month later to the delight of Oxenholme’s 2,000-plus residents who had gone for more than a year without either.

Mr Riddell, a time-served joiner, said the shop had tried to offer an alternative to Asda less than a mile away and the nearby Texaco garage.

But this week Mr Riddell said: “The reason I opened is because you are doing a public service, or I thought I was. Up until May this year, it was doing all right but since then it has dropped off, but everywhere is the same. I’d like to keep it going but it’s got to the stage that I can’t afford to.”

Mr Riddell said the shop’s prices were competitive and it only took very small sums in profit, five per cent on average, making 9p on a loaf, 65p on a £5.19 bottle of wine, 10p from a two-litre bottle of milk priced at £1.69, and 35p on a packet of cigarettes worth £7.91.

Daughter Dawn said: “People need to use the shop as well as the post office because the shop keeps the post office open. Everyone wants a shop but they are not using it enough.”

The pair have tried to widen their range by introducing the Lottery, hot coffees, pies and pasties and even taking telephone orders to deliver goods to elderly people. It has also sourced hard-to-find essentials which have vanished from the shelves of most corner shops like safety pins, cotton bobbins, pegs and puncture repair kits. They also support local farmers, selling meat, eggs, fruit and vegetables.

Supplier Martin Powell, of Powell’s Fruit and Veg Merchants in Sedbergh, said: “We’ve served a shop here for more than 50 years. “Bill has taken it on and done a good job. It’s a convenience shop with good quality stuff and people should realise they have to use it.”

Pensioner Maureen Howarth said: “I can’t drive and I find it very handy. “They are very sociable and can’t do enough for you. It would be terrible if it closed.”