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Innovation in the Service of Convenience

Store allows night-time access to key card holders


By Christopher Sinclair

It is difficult to envision a 7-Eleven, Cumberland Farms, or other 24-hour store popping up in Norfolk’s downtown center. One senses that large, flashing neon signs and the designs of Alfredo Taylor would make for rather peculiar neighbors. That being the case, Ryan Craig at the Berkshire Country Store has devised a 24-hour convenience service with a more Norfolk flavor.

The Norfolk Night Pantry, as it is known, is a small space off the foyer of the Berkshire Country Store. Stocked with staples and snacks, it is accessible all through the night with the simple swipe of a key card, obtainable by filling out a brief form and paying a one-time fee of $15. The card is activated and ready to go within a day.

Once inside the night pantry, you select the items you want to purchase, then check out using an intuitively designed touchscreen system. Debit, credit, and ApplePay are all accepted forms of payment, and the checkout process will be familiar to anyone who has used the now ubiquitous self-check aisle at Stop & Shop or Target. In the case of a technological malfunction, the Berkshire Country Store will, on “scout’s honor,” accept a written paper record of your purchase. You simply fill it out and leave it in the pantry, and the transaction can be followed up the next day with the staff.

Craig, the Berkshire Country Store’s proprietor, attributes the original idea for the night pantry to Norfolk resident Kim Maxwell. To make the idea a reality, Craig had to find and install user-friendly technology, in the form of the card reader and the touchscreen checkout system.

“A 24-hour operation would struggle to be profitable,” says Craig, “despite the convenience that it would provide. This is a great way to offer access to the necessities without the overhead of having to staff during the overnight hours.”

The total number of night pantry users is presently around 50, a group that seems fairly evenly split between locals and weekenders, according to Craig. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, as people say that it was a sorely needed amenity and that it is easy to use.

The Berkshire Country store also does custom packages for night pantry users, which can be arranged by calling ahead during business hours. “Anything I carry in the store, I can set aside for you out there,” says Craig.

The store will transition to off-season hours on Oct. 1, closing an hour earlier at 7 p.m. Craig hopes that more people will then take advantage of the service to effectively extend the hours that the store is available to them. The night pantry service will also be available for use on days that the store doesn’t open at all, such as major holidays. As it says on the front of the colorful night pantry pamphlet at the store’s checkout counter, “How can a store be open . . . when it’s closed?”

The night pantry is, as is the case with so many good ideas, the product of a conversation. Craig and his enterprising crew continue to maintain an open conversation with the town and its people about their needs and desires, and they are not afraid to act on those ideas to make them happen.

The next time a midnight craving crawls out of the dark and clutches at your stomach, or the next time you look at your watch and see that you’ve missed the cut of closing time by a half hour, let’s hope that you have your night pantry key card ready at hand.

Photo, top, by Bruce Frisch: the cubbyhole in the Berkshire Country Store’s entryway that carries a range of snacks and necessities, and is available to keycard holders after closing time.

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